Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Fine Art of Bribery

I've officially lost count of how many times Chino and I have paid off the traffic police here in Mexico. The traffic police are separate from the regular police and this is what they do - they drive around (or sometimes just stand in the street,) pull people over with reason or at random, scare the shit out of them, threaten them and then let them go after they've offered a "solution" to the problem not involving going to the police station.

The "solution" is perhaps paying the officer to do you a "favor" or maybe it's pretending to believe that he's offering you a discounted fine if you pay him there on the street, others just strait out tell you what you need to pay them to make them go away and sometimes they'll just say "Give me money "for the cokes" and I'll let you go."

"For the Cokes," meaning - so I can go and buy some Coca Colas - is a HUGE figure of speech here and it seems everybody uses it. Sometimes it's used between friends like when if they give you a ride and you ask how much you owe them for gas and they'd say "Oh, just for the cokes." Usually though it involves bribery.

You need to get a new location in the flea market? Pay the guard "for some cokes" and he'll find you a good spot but you'd better be prepared to pay him for some MORE cokes to get the number of the person who owns the slot. Honest to God, when Chino and I were robbed the 3rd time and we had a lead on who did it and the real police (not the traffic police) came, they said they'd go check on the lead but first told us that we should pay for the cokes because they were doing something for us. We'd just had about $2,500.00 in stuff stolen from us and the police were asking us to BRIBE them to do something about it. Chino refused and the police never called us to say what they did.

Last January Chino went to get his drivers license and they told him he'd have to wait till July for it to come in (and unlike in the U.S. you don't get a paper that says you're legal, you just keep driving around with nothing) but a few weeks ago one of his family members told him that he has a friend at the DMV who would get it put through same-day - for a "favor." Forty dollars and one hour later and Chino was finally driving legal. On the way home from getting his license he was pulled over for a random inspection by the traffic police and ended up STILL having to pay the cokes because while the officer couldn't find anything wrong, he said that he would make something wrong if he didn't get some money for cokes.

Chino's getting really good at it these days though and I'm relieved. As soon as we're pulled over I stuff all of Chino's money and my money in my bra and we leave 20 to 50 pesos (2 - 5 dollars) in his wallet so that when he's asked to pay TWO HUNDRED dollars (because yes, they will try to scare amazing amounts out of you) Chino can say that we're horribly poor and are trying to feed our 10 children and that we're homeless and that he doesn't have a job and blah blah on and on until the traffic cops gets worn down by the talk and just takes what ever Chino has in his wallet. Sometimes it gets ugly and they have to do man-chest-puffing and yell at each other and say "chingow" a lot, but in the end they take the 20 and go.

These days we never pay more than 50 pesos unless Chino forgets to carry around change and gets pinched for 100 or 200 pesos but all in all it's not so bad. We don't complain about it because we pay the same when we're doing something wrong and when we're not. He DID drive the wrong way down a one way once, he DID drive without a license for about two years, got caught running a yellow light, and even took a turn where there was no turn allowed (he's kind of a sucky driver ;D) and he's never received a real ticket for any of it.

Actually though, here where we are there are no tickets. When you have to pay a FOR REAL traffic fine (if they exist?) you don't get a slip of paper to pay later, you are escorted by the officer to the station and you pay then and there or have your family bring you some money or you leave on foot because your car is no longer yours. So no, we don't complain about having to pay the officers off weather we're in the right or wrong.

It all seemed so shocking when we first moved here and now it's so common place it amazes me to think that I've sat here and wrote out this whole post with nothing but a glimmer of "this is insane" shining in the back of my mind. In case you're wondering? We tried to go to the station and pay a real ticket once, but the officer wouldn't take us, it just doesn't happen.

Go out to get tripe fajita tacos, drive around a heard of donkeys, grab a snow cone from a man selling them from his bicycle cart, pay off the traffic cop and go home to your neighborhood where dogs live on roofs and chickens live on the side of houses. Who needs to fall down a rabbit hole when you can just come to Mexico?


On Mexican Time said...

OMG - amiga, that is INSANE. Do you know that I "hear" about these things happening allll the time, but never for those amts of money over here!!! Also, I've never met anyone who was actually frightened...only heard of tourists being frigthened, and again that is hearsay!

Wow, I can't believe it happens that often to you? I think your'e smart to carry around the smaller bills/coins. That is what my friends here do as well. Heck, but in fairness they've all only been pulled over because they WERE doing something wrong!! Not one friend has been pulled over for NO reason? I'm not saying it doesn't happen, because I know it does, but I believe mostly to tourists...sad to say.... That's why I dont' like driving by myself. Being this blonde I mine as well paste a bullseye to my forehead!! LOL!!! I've said before I don't trust any police here!! NONE!!! Until this country can get a judicial system, and law enforcement that can be will forever remain a developing country!

Karen said...

When we drove from Nuevo Laredo to Tuxtepec we were stopped 7 or 8 times in 3 days. The last time the officer had my husband go across the street and take money out of my account to pay him. We arrived in Tuxtepec on gas fumes and not a peso left. We actually had to sit beside a toll booth until someone agreed to change my last $10 American in to $100 pesos to pay. My husband did not have his Mexican driver's license yet or I probably would have refused to pay them.

On the other hand, in Tuxtepec, he was able to get his 5-year license in minutes. It cost $800 pesos ($80 dollars) and his name is spelled wrong but it is his. When he told the woman she had his name wrong she said he "had" to change it (little things like that can be BIG problems here) but that he had to pay her again. Luckily he had the license in his hand and we told her, "No, gracias" and left.

Anonymous said...

Oh, bribes in Mexico. Gotta love em.

Here in Cancun it happens, but if you insist on a ticket, they'll usually just try to convince you it will be a super expensive ticket (which it never is) then give up and give you a warning or something.

Bribes sure do help to "move along" tedious paperwork, though. :)

~ellen~ said...

Wow, that's fascinating. I have to say, I love your posts about what life is like in Mexico. I've never been there - to live or to visit - and I am really surprised by how different it is.

I mean, sure, I am aware that it's a foreign country, but STILL. I still haven't gotten over the vet giving you needles to take home! Eeeeeyikes.

Kristi said...

Yep, I am pretty familiar with this happening, has happened to many people I know in Mexico... I guess I thought they targeted tourists more but apparently not?!
Another reminder why I am thankful to live on the north side of the border!

Upstate Broad said...

The Big Guy has been joking for years that for the right price it is theoretically possible to buy a night with the 1st lady of Mexico. "La Mordita" it's called, right? The Bite.

Karen said...

Ellen, you don't need to go to the vet to get needles, they sell them in almost all the tienditas and papelerias here. Doctors usually send you home with at least one injectable to give yourself if you are ill. If you are squeamish about it there are always several neighbor ladies that will do it for you for a few pesos.

Mathilde said...

Things are different here in PV but yet again i've been fined so many times they probably all know i wont bribe them. The funny thing about REAL tickets, is that they take one of your papers (driving licence, tarjeta de circulacion ...) and tell you "if you pay within 5 days, you get a 50% discount". THAT is only in Mexico!!!! But the amount is totally random. For the same felony (generally speeding), i've paid from 50 pesos to 300. So yeah, trafic regulations is ... how do i put it ... different. Yet again, you're right when you say it's just became normal shit now in our crazy day to day mexican life!!!

Gail said...

I recently told a newcomer down here the little trick of hiding your shopping money and never having more than like you said 20 or 50 pesos inside your wallet in order to show the cop "look, I'd give you more if I had it but honestly this is all I have!" My husband sticks the real shopping money inside his shoes.Thankfully he's never been asked to take off his shoes, although we shouldn't rule out the possibility.

Gringa-n-Mexico said...

OMT - LOL well now you know one for real, crazy right? You know though? It's only been Chino that's ever been pulled over (me in the passenger seat, but never me driving) and I do waaaayyyy more driving that he does. It makes me wonder what that's all about you know? Perhaps they see the Texas plates and my whiteness and assume I won't be able to speak Spanish? I've no clue but for what ever reason I'm REALLY glad.

Karen - Holy CRAP that was a hell of a time!! You poor thing, but I'm glad you made it there and at least had that 10 dollars! YEEEESSHH :( And lol kick ass of your husband to walk out on the DMV lady!!! HA!

Gringa - yeah, we're too afraid to ask for the real ticket, toooo scary what might happen at the station. Maybe someday...

Ellen and Karen - LOL yep the needles, and Karen is right, we get needles for US as well as the dog and if you don't have a neighboor to do the shot you can always pay the cashier 2.00 dollars and she'll stick your butt for you!

Upstate - YYYAAAAAYYYYYYY you pulled out your old blog so you could comment!! I'M SO HAPPPYYYYY!!!!! YYYAAYYY!!! :) And yes, Mordita - why do I never think of telling people the cool facts like that? LOL I need you to do a Discovery Channel type edit on my posts for me - you've always got the cool facts! :)

Kristi - nope, anybody that has a car is a target :)

Mathilde - You are soo brave! Maybe some day we'll get up the guts.

Gail - Bless you for sharing the hide-the-$ secret - you'll get an extra pat on the back from Jesus for that! LOL it's crazy what little tips can be so important to new comers.

Gail said...

Well, I did share the $ secret with them, but honestly most people don't believe us until it actually happens to them one day. It's like they insist on learning the hard way, you know? A lot of the white people who move down here have their heads stuck in the sand. They walk around in la-la land all day. You can't behave like a tourist here for the rest of your life (ie: stupid).

PuertoVallartaGirl said...

I've never done it but I know a few poeple that never have to pay the mordita. They just ask the police to show the violation in a book . Or they pull out their own paperwork and it shows how they are legal. they get the officers name and then they say they are going to report them. Also do you guys still see those bill boards that say in spanish "report corruption" ?

Gail said...

PVGirl--It's not too easy to report corruption when they have guns (federales) and you don't. Plus you never really know whose side they're on, and it's not a good idea to piss off the cartel.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Wow, that certainly is shocking to me! I don't think I'd be comfortable living there--reminds me too much of my days as a scrawny little white kid in mostly black middle school. We used to bring extra change to school, figuring we'd be accosted in the bathrooms.

Gail said...

Vegas Linda Lou, honestly, you do get numb to it. And it's amazing what a person can deal with and tolerate in the name of real love.

I had a comfortable developed-world life with my first husband, but he was a lying jerk for 22 years.

I live in 3rd world crappy-ass Mexico with my Mexican husband of 9 years and everyday with him feels like a honeymoon. I miss the heck out of the US, that's for sure, but nothing I can do about it.

Mexico puts hair on your chest. After Mexico, you can deal with just about anything.