In the fall of 2000, I reported to a local tag agency, wrote a terribly large check to the Tax Commission, and was handed a license plate with six characters: three letters, followed by three numbers. The letters were FME, to which I paid no attention. In fact, I gave it no thought until the following summer, when I attended a chat-room function in deepest New Jersey, and people started asking me about that filthy plate. Apparently the Garden State would not allow that three-letter combination. The fact that the first two digits were “69” amazed them further.
In view of that incident, this one seems somehow notable:
Razvan Stefanescu, a Romanian living in Sweden, returned to his native country for a holiday recently, driving his car which sported personalised licence plates. The plates read “MUIE PSD.” In Swedish, this combination of letters is of no particular note. There’s no hidden meaning to them. In Romanian, however, they’re a bit more inflammatory. “Muie” is a loanword from Romani mui (“face”), and is used as a slang term for “blowjob.” Its pragmatic use in Romanian is far stronger than “blowjob” in English, however. “PSD,” meanwhile, is the ruling Social Democratic Party. So taken together, a comparable English translation would be “Fuck the PSD!”
In Sweden, of course, this was of no consequence. But…
Once Stefanescu was back in Romania, the police confiscated the licence plates and suspended his driving licence. They claimed that the plates weren’t valid in Romania, opened up a criminal file under his name, and put out a statement saying they’d consulted with the Stockholm Interpol Office who’d confirmed that personalized plates were only valid in Sweden. But this justification was almost immediately contradicted by the Swedish Embassy, who said the plates should be valid across the EU.
The results were easily predictable:
The whole affair then degenerated into a specious technical argument about number plate regulation, with some people citing the 1968 Vienna Convention while others cited a 2015 Belgian amendment to the Convention. By this time, though, the whole incident had become a symbol of state disinformation and authoritarianism.
Alas, my state specifies that the tag stays with the car, so when my wrecked vehicle was sent to the shredder in 2006, the plate would never again be allowed to infect the minds of Jerseyites — unless, of course, it was reissued to someone in 2017 when the state returned to a three-letter/three-number format.