I recently had my first awkward border crossing (other than entering the US where immigration staff are notoriously amongst the most aggressively obnoxious in the world), crossing from Macedonia to Greece. Interestingly it was on the Macedonian side of the border, rather than the Greek. As with most border crossing by bus in this part of the world, the driver collected everyone’s passports and took them to the security checkpoint, whilst we all waited onboard. 5 minutes later he came back to get me off the bus as the border official wanted to talk to me. Shortly thereafter I learned one of life’s great lessons: Never interrupt an immigration officer to explain you only speak English without at least triple checking that they’re not already speaking English!

With the language confusion out of the way and both of us speaking somewhat slower for each other’s benefit, we got down to the meat of the matter. He wanted to know where I had been staying in Скопје:

  • I rented an apartment
  • What is its name?
  • You mean its address?
  • No, its name!
  • Erm? The name of the agency I rented it from?
  • No! The apartment’s name!
  • Ummm. I don’t think it actually had a name.
  • Well, where are the papers?
  • What papers?
  • From the apartment!
  • I don’t have any.

This went on for quite a while, with neither of really having a clue what the other was talking about, before he eventually got completely frustrated and just waved me through in despair.

From talking to a few people afterwards it seems that the problem came about through my failure to register with the local Police within a few days of arriving in the country. For most tourists this isn’t an issue, as the hotel they’re staying at takes care of it all for them, but because I rented my own private apartment I needed to do that myself. But the border guard was assuming that when I said “apartment” I meant one attached to a hotel, and wanted to know which one so that someone could take issue with them for not filling in my forms. It seems to have been beyond his experience for a shortish term tourist to actually rent like a local. I’ve no idea what might have happened had he realised it was actually my fault I hadn’t registered, rather than some sloppy hotel clerk.

After that the Greek border checkpoint was remarkably simple. Of course it helped that I have an EU passport, so they barely gave me a second look, unlike the Macedonians on the bus who were all treated with grave suspicion and their visas double checked. Relations between the two countries are so bad that even a Schengen Visa isn’t accepted for entry to Greece if you have a Macedonian passport.

Humourously one of the first things you see once you actually make it over the border is a large “Welcome to Macedonia” sign (remember, this is going from Macedonia into Greece!) The dispute over naming is, of course, the primary fight between the two countries, with Greece even threatening sanctions against Canada recently for officially recognising Macedonia under that name).

Unfortunately I wasn’t expecting the sign and we were past it before I could get my camera out. Please leave a comment if you can find a photo online!

From македонија to Μακεδονια

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