Don’t worry, this posting doesn’t concern the interaction between the GDP and the USP. (Readers with a degree in earth sciences will know that GDP refers to the Greater Daglan Plate and that USP means the Upper Spanish Plate, which are currently moving together at more than 15 centimetres a year, and are planning on having a fiesta the year after next.) Instead, it concerns licence plates.
For a North American, interpreting the codes that appear on European licence plates (in the section marked with the European circle of stars) can take a bit of adjustment. It may help to know that the list of these codes is maintained by the United Nations and was authorized most recently by the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968, but then again it may not. So here’s a guide, which is informed by local knowledge gained in the GDA (Greater Daglan Area), especially during tourist season.
The most common country code in our area is F, which stands for France. You’ll see that on a lot of cars around here, for obvious reasons.
Probably the next most common code is GB, which stands for Great Britain, apparently the ninth largest island in the world. (Why not UK? you may ask. The answer is too complicated.)
Then, things get trickier. You’ll see a lot of B, usually on cars that are stopped in the middle of intersections, or headed the wrong way on a one-way street, or speeding through a school zone. The B signifies Belgium.
You might think that you’d see a lot of I, since Italy is one of the largest nations that border France. But no — there is no “I” in Dordogne, just as there is no “I” in Team. The Italians evidently are staying at home, partying with their Prime Minister.
You will see a fair number of D plates, which may make you think of Denmark. But you’d be wrong (Denmark’s code is DK), because D stands for Deutschland, which we usually call Germany.
My wife says she recently saw a plate with the initials SLO, and wasn’t sure if it stood for Slovenia or Slovakia. The answer: Slovenia.
Another tricky one is E, which could stand for Europe, or England, or East Anglia. In fact it stands for Spain, because of the Spanish habit of calling their country Espana.
But easily the most common country code here (after F and GB) is NL. You might think that Holland would like a simple, one-letter code like H, but in fact I am informed by reliable sources that NL stands for the Netherlands. Based on how many NL cars I see around here, I think it actually stands for: Nobody’s Left.