A Vignette On Vignettes

When you arrive in some countries in Europe, you’re obliged to buy a vignette, which is a little sticker you put on your windshield that lets you drive on the highways, expressways, motorways, and whatever else they might care to call a major road. It basically acts as a toll for the entire country. In some countries (I’m looking at you Switzerland), there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this extra cost, especially when it costs $50 and they toll the hell out of you on every road anyway. In others, like Bulgaria, where we’ve just arrived, the cost ($7) and the reasons seem more justifiable. Either way, it’s a nice little exercise in bureaucracy every time. Here’s how we managed to acquire ours as we arrived at the border.

We pull up to a booth with a big sign that says “Vignette” on it. The man inside hands us the vignette and gruffly says, “5 Euro.” No problem, I go to hand him some coins. “No metal. Buy at petrol station.” Alrighty. No problem. We continue on to the next gas station, where they sell vignettes. You are allowed to drive without one until you’re 30 km inland, and they sell them at every gas station on the way.

I approach the cashier, making the universal hand signal for vignettes, a little square in the air. “No vignette.” “But there’s a sign outside that says you sell vignettes!” I counter, as if this might change her mind. “No sell.”

OK, on to the next gas station, a big Shell outfit. Surely they must sell vignettes and take credit cards.

“Vignette?” I say, making the little square in the air.

“Yes,” the man says as he pulls one out.

“OK, one second,” I say as I rush off to stock up on Haribo candy. I’ve been in extreme withdrawal ever since we entered the former Yugoslavia, as the stuff is hard to come by there.

I come back with an armful of little baggies, and he hands me the vignette. I hand him my credit card.

“No, cash,” he says.

“No cash?”

“No, cash!”

“No cash!” I say, pulling out my pockets. “Visa.”

“No, cash!”

“NO CASH!” I say as I pull out my pockets again.

“OK. No problem.”

I don’t know what was lost in translation, but we left the Shell station one vignette and one pound of candy to the good. The candy was gone by the time we reached Sofia, 50 minutes later. I may have a problem