The United Nations just wrapped up Global Road Safety Week, which reminded me of a very strange moment in traffic history from in the 1980s when people from Spain and France had a dispute known as “the war of the stop signs.”

First, a little geography.

There’s a Spanish community Llívia, which is actually in France.

Legally it’s part of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, but it’s a geographic enclave, surrounded on all sides by southwestern France.

This came about after the two countries went to war in the 17th Century.

When they signed the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Spain gave 33 villages in the region to France, but Llívia remained Spanish, by many accounts because it was technically a town, not a village, and therefore not part of the deal.

Today Spanish and French authorities have worked together on a local hospital and other projects.

But at other times the mood has been a little less cooperative.

Which brings us back to the dispute over the road that connects Llívia with the nearest town in contiguous Spain, about 2 km away.

This road crossed several French roads, one of which was a pretty busy route for people heading south for the summer holidays.

Tired of having all those travelers yielding to the road going to and from Spain, the French authorities removed the stop signs on their thoroughfare and put up stop signs on the road to and from Llívia.

This was not well received by the Spanish.

They argued that a series of other treaties guaranteed free movement between the enclave and the rest of Spain, which meant who were the French to put up stop signs on what was essentially their road?

The Spanish took the stop signs down.

And the French put them back up.

Over and over this happened, for years.

France eventually sent in security guards to keep the Spanish from pulling out the stop signs, but despite the nickname the newspapers gave this dispute, the two sides didn’t really have a war over them.

In fact, they found some pretty clever ways to pave over their road issue.

Spain built a bridge so travelers could bypass those French intersections and their stop signs.

And France replaced the disputed intersections with a roundabout, so everybody could get where they needed to go without anybody having to stop.

Designer and couch-to-5K runner Harriet Richardson recently emailed a local church about the Bible verses on their front sign.

She suggested they might attract more gym-goers with punny slogans like “Next, exercise your demons” or “Your body is not a temple, we are.”

After several days of this, the church decided to have a little fun.

They wrote back to verify that Harriet was going to the gym that day and then put up a new sign.

It read “Please stop emailing us Harriet.”

And Harriet was delighted.

The Spanish town that ended up in France (El Pais)

PLEASE STOP EMAILING US HARRIET. The internet is still good, people are still good. (

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Photo by Ignaciogavira – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikicommons