mánudagur, ágúst 14, 2006

"áfengi er áfengi"

Coming back from Bulgaria last Thursday night, I got a little greedy. I had three bottles of fine Bulgarian wine, which is right up against the 2.25-liter legal limit for bringing vín across the stones. But while waiting for my luggage, and while buying the required bag-'o'-candy for my coworkers in the arrival Duty Free, I saw a great bottle of sherry. "Eh, 3 bottles, 4 bottles, what's the difference?" I thought.

So I picked it up, picked up my suitcase, and rolled the whole mess out through customs on the "Velkomin heim" four-wheel carriage. A little voice was nagging at me, but I ignored it. My A-Separate-Peace schoolboy looks had always kept me from the dreaded Customs X-Ray Machine.

But not this time. A sweet-looking customs officer locked eyes with me, and I knew it was ovah. O-V-A. She motioned me over to the X-ray and I tried to look nonchalant. But inside I was 100% chalant. One by one, I lowered my bag-lady bundles onto the conveyor. "Clang, clunk," went the bags with the wine bottles. No good could come of this.

It was all over so fast. "Do you not have four bottles?" she asked sweetly in Icelandic.

"Umm, yes," I managed.

"Well which one do you want to give up?" she asked.

I sorted through the bundles and came out with a bottle of Bulgarian red that had cost me 2 leva (or 93 ISK or a buck-thirty) and handed it over to her.

"Now you're also going to have to pay a fine," she said, smiling up at me with her blue eyes. (Icelanders, I had never heard the word sekt before, but I could guess its awful meaning. I was thinking something on the order of 20,000 ISK.)

She took my passport and told me to wait and then disappeared before motioning me into a side office. There was a grandfatherly customs man in there and I explained, halfheartedly, that because the bottle was so cheap I thought it would be OK to bring it in. I showed him the 2-leva price tag.

"Áfengi er áfengi," ["Alcohol is alcohol"] he answered, with a stern look over the top of his glasses. "It doesn't matter how much it costs." But then he warmed up and chatted a bit. I got the sense that I wasn't the first nor the last that day to be caught with a surplus of Bulgarian booze.

Finally he processed and printed a whole official legal document for me, which I signed. There was a copy in Icelandic and a copy in English. I admitted to bringing in the extra booze and agreed to its confiscation. He swiped my credit card and charged me 1500 ISK, or about $21. Or about the cost of a regular bottle of wine here in the Land.

Using dollar-cost-averaging, in fact, my cost for the remaining bottles, including the fee, came out to just about what they would have set me back here. So I'm about even. But I learned that just like the SEC, Icelandic Customs always gets their man.

Today's word of the day is vín, which translates to wine. Not too tricky. They both come out of Latin for "vine". And I won't even make you pay a sekt for that libation-information.


Blogger AS said...

Should have told her: "No matter what, you will not get in my way"

Blogger fakebloggername2 said...

Love the story fellas.

Blogger Little Miss Loopy said...

They can smell these things. I've never been stopped in customs in Keflavík but I've never had anything to be stopped about. I'm 100% sure that if I'm ever tempted to try and "smuggle" something into the country they would snag me up in a second.I don't know how many times I've heard someone say: "I had never done anything like this before and the one time I try it they bust me". Sixth Sense I tell you.

Blogger Hulda Katrín Stefánsdóttir said...

Ég hef alltaf lúmskt gaman af svona tollara-sögum!!
Hulda Katrín

Blogger JB said...

AS: Well, I did feel the Heat coming around the corner.

FBN2: Thankths fellaths.

LML: They do indeed See with an All-Seeing Eye.

HKS: Gaman að heyra! :-)

Blogger Professor Batty said...

...thanks for the timely cautionary tale, I'll be honest when I pass through customs in October...

Blogger carmen said...

So which one of them do you think sucked down that bottle at lunchtime?

Blogger JB said...

PB: Yeah, don't mess with those guys.

Cahmen: You know, I made the same observation to my main man Þórir, who used to work Customs at Keflavík. He says that at the end of every day, they burned the confiscated meat and poured all of the confiscated booze down the sink. I would think they would want to "double dip" and turn around to sell the booze in Vín Búð. Maybe have a special "confiscated" section in the flagship Heiðrún store in Árbær. Just a thought.

Blogger cK said...

The Russian bar on my block has a Romanian merlot on its menu. We tried a bottle one night under the theory that it was so cheap we'd left plenty of room under the salary cap in case the wine was subpar. It turned out to be the driest wine I've ever tried. It sucked the water right from our bodies. The waiter, after we paused over our first sips, smiled. He said, "Romania: Known for its gymnasts and wine."

Part of me wonders if the Bulgarian wine is as risky. Any verdict?

Blogger Maja said...

Wow, unlucky dude.

When my friends and I arrived to Iceland, we already had several bottles of vodka and pimms between us, but we also went into the frihofn and bought as much beer as we could carry and we weren't stopped.

I can't understand why they have to confiscate the alcohol.. why not just tax you on it?

Blogger JB said...

CK: I haven't cracked the Bulgarian wine open yet. Being back in the Skyr Zone has rendered the bottles too-exotic-to-open. But the Bulgarian wine I had there was quite good. No vampire-gymnasts in Bulgaria, I guess.

Maja: Yeah, yeah. We all have stories.

They would have just taxed me on it if I had declared it. But once you try to sneak it through and get caught, it ain't yours no' mo'.


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