It’s not just for the cops to know where to send your speeding tickets. License plates can give strong indications as to the values of a certain culture. Asians love numbers denoting wealth and when it comes to the license plate game, there’s no better way to spend your hard-earned cash. The loaded folks (or those who enjoy the appearances thereof) can pay tens of thousands of dollars (or more*) for the privilege of having cute numbers on their cars. In Singapore, for example, there are service providers matching up plate sellers and buyers.
The most popular number with the Chinese would have to be “8”. Because 8 (paht) kinda sorta sounds like the word for prosperity (faht). To me, its a bit of a stretch, so I’m still stumped as to why Chinese worldwide pay top dollar for 8s in just about any public manifestation of personal details. This cultural ‘phenomenon’ is not confined to Asia. Most of the Chinese I’ve known in say, Toronto, or The Hague, have all managed to eke out a few 8s in their telephone numbers.
Local laws may not always allow you to splat whatever you want on a plate (unlike in US/Canada where its anti-climactic to see “VRYHOTGUY” climb out of his Mustang), but plate watching, like train spotting, can still yield interesting observations. Not sure if that Mercedes-Benz E-Class is ferrying around the Nigerian Ambassador or if it’s a cab-for-hire? If the plates contain CD, diplomats are on the move. If it’s a blue plate (in The Hague), it’s a taxi – grab it quick – taxis are like exotic birds here. Say your neighbour has BN on the plate, chances are he or she works at a criminal court or other international organization (quasi-diplomats). In Belgium, EU officials have specialized license plates, but due to a belief that the owners do not pay tax, such cars are frequently vandalized.
Plates can be a pesky barrier to our efforts to remain incognito. In movies, shady dudes change their plates when engaged in skullduggery. In real life, French Presidents will never stoop to that. They prefer zipping off on scooters for their night-time shenanigans (much more dignified).
*I must admit, the Saudis win this game hands down – see $14.3 million.