Plates, trains and automobiles

This may come as a surprise to you, but Swedes love vanity plates. That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn in my twenty-plus years driving (and sitting) in Stockholm traffic. Every day, I find myself behind someone who wants to signal something to their fellow citizens.

Since the maximum number of characters is seven, there’s not a lot of room for witticism on the plate, and off the top of my head, I’d say the most common vanity plates are people’s first names. You know, the Monicas and the Anderses. And the Ömers.

There’s a HEJ close to where we live, and a VIRGO about as close but in the opposite direction from our house. I’ve seen a SORRY and an R2D2, too.

I’ve often thought what I’d like to have on my vanity plate. I’m too private a person to have my name on a plate – I don’t want others to know my name! I wouldn’t want to have Wife’s name on the plate, either.

What about our dog’s name? That would only be funny if he also drove the car, and while he’s smart enough to do it, he’s too short.

I’ve only ever known one person with vanity plates. When I worked at Tackla in Orillia, Ontario, the company hired a new controller about three weeks before I returned to Finland.

It was the summer of 1990. In other words, the 1990s were in such infancy that it was basically still the 80s. No surprise, then, that the new controller was a fast-talking, fast-moving yuppie in his early 30s. He was also the first person I ever met who used shirts with a contrast collar.

Anthony had recently graduated from a business school in Montreal and he was ready to get to the top, one or another, in the true 80s style.

Whatever works.

That, incidentally, was his personal slogan.

He had mentioned it to me earlier that day, outlining his take-no-prisoners philosophy to me over lunch, but the topic came up again when he offered to take me home on his Mercedes convertible.

“I like to use the manual gears, it gives you better acceleration, you know? Whatever works,” he said, stepped on it, before switching to D as we turned left at the McDonald’s, his Mercedes’s tires screeching and my hair blowing in the wind.

Five minutes later – Orillia was a small town – I got out.

“That’s just the kinda guy I am. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do. You know? Whatever works.”

As he backed up the driveway, I noticed his license plate.


Even though Ontario allowed eight characters, it still wasn’t quite clear what the message was. But hey, whatever works.

The other day, I was driving Son to the train and we got stuck behind a BMW. A situation that might have caused some aggravation behind the wheel of our Toyota – had I not seen his plate.

It said VESKU.

That’s a Finnish nickname. There was a fellow Finn in front of me!

Suddenly, I felt a kinship to him. There we were, a couple of Finns, fellow travelers. On the road. Going places.

As I stepped on the accelerator and switched lanes, I gave Vesku a slight wave and smiled.

I hope that made him smile and think kindly of PEF17B.

Maybe that worked.

2 thoughts on “Plates, trains and automobiles

  1. “I’m too private a person to have my name on a plate – I don’t want others to know my name!”

    Except baristas!

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