Saturday, September 20, 2008

I don't enjoy...

...being pulled over. Sarah asked me today which I preferred: being pulled over (by the police, I mean) in the States or here in Mexico. My answer: neither. I feel like a schoolgirl caught in the act of talking in class or something. My heart pounds, my ears get red, my hands shake. It's not a pretty sight.

I got pulled over today. I didn't enjoy it. Sarah enjoyed it. Everyone else in the car thought it was pretty hilarious. I was not amused.

First of all, I should say that being stopped by the police is different here than it is in the States. Basically in the States if you get pulled over, you get a ticket -- unless the officer has mercy or something. A Mexican driving in America has about the same probability of receiving a ticket as an American who is pulled over. An American in Mexico will more than likely not receive a ticket. Traffic fines are bad for tourism. If you do something really boneheaded like blasting through a red light right in front of a transito (traffic cop) or tearing through a zona escolar (school zone) you can expect to be pulled over. You may or may not be ticketed. If you get a ticket, you'll need to go to the office to pay it. You DON'T pay the policeman who stopped you. That's called a bribe.

So today I, gringa extraordinaria, while being very careful (because the transitos downtown like to pull over gringos to earn pocket money -- more on that later -- and as I said, I don't enjoy being pulled over) got flagged down to stop for a ticket. The transitos in most central areas (downtown areas) work on foot or on bicycles. If they want to pull you over, they tweet their whistles and motion with their hands for you to stop. You stop in the middle of traffic and they give you a ticket. I didn't see him flagging me down, so I kept driving. Several blocks later I pulled into the hardware store with a city police truck, lights flashing, right behind me. Apparently the transito had radioed for backup to help him catch the Americana malcreada.

I had already gotten out of the van (I needed to pick up some hinges for Doug -- great fun) and was starting to walk towards the store entrance when a short, skinny traffic cop stormed around the corner with his feathers ruffled like a banty rooster. Without preamble, he stated rather abruptly, "You ran a red light." I stuck out my hand and said, "Good afternoon." He stopped and slowly stuck out his hand.

Cultural background: Fifty years ago in the US, people greeted each other formally when meeting. Any person who began a conversation without a salutation was considered rude and vulgar (or at least impatient!). That's the way it is here. The first thing you say in any conversation is, "Buenas tardes" (or buenas noches or dia or at least "hello"...something). Anyway, a public servant starting a conversation with, "You ran a red light" was a serious faux pax (that's French, not Spanish)...and he knew it.

SO -- back to the story...

He shook my hand and said, "Good afternoon." Then he proceeded to tell me how I had run a red light and had ignored him. I told him that, indeed, I had NOT run a red light, and I did not realize that he was trying to stop me, but I was sorry that I had not noticed him. He was very rude. I was very irritated, but (as I mentioned in my BFS post) speaking in a foreign language causes one to slow down and carefully consider one's words. That is SUCH a good thing. It was well over 100 degrees, and we'd been running all over town all day. I was finished and wanted to go home, not stand in the sun debating a ticket I didn't merit. HOWEVER there have been times when I know that I've breezed through a yellow light (which is illegal here) or driven over the speed limit and didn't get stopped. If he was prepared to write me a ticket, I'd take it with grace. I apologized again and asked what I needed to do.

He demanded my license (which, BTW, you should not give and they should not take) and then snatched it from my hand when I showed that I did have one. He told me that I would need to follow him to the office where he would write me a ticket. I was polite. I spoke slowly and respectfully. I told him that I wouldn't be able to go for a few minutes, because I had some things I needed to buy for my husband. If he didn't want to wait for me, he would need to tell me where the office was located so that I could go pay the ticket. His response, "Oh, it's very complicated to explain." Riiiight. What does that mean in English? That means, "I know you didn't run the light and you know you didn't run the light. It's hot and you're a rich American, so just give me some money, and we'll make this whole thing go away."

I don't play like that. The Bible teaches that we should neither demand nor pay bribes.

My response to him was, "Well, I can't follow you right now, and you're not taking my license without telling me where to go to pick it up. You could draw me a map."

"No, it's very difficult," he said. We went back and forth like that for several minutes and finally the officer's buddy said, "Do you need to have a receipt?" In English, that means, "Don't you just want to give us $20?" Um...let me think...

Finally the transito thrust my license back at me and said, "Just forget it" as he turned and walked away. Once again, he made a big courtesy mistake, because just like you always salud a person when you meet, you also say, "Adios" when you part company. I said, "You gentlemen, have a nice day!" Then I turned and walked into the store. I couldn't help grinning. I hope the cop didn't see, but I think he was too busy eating crow.

Meanwhile in the van, everyone (our pastor, his wife and another ministry student were in the van with Sarah) was chuckling and guessing what was going to happen. They were all right.

"Rebecca, you should drive really slowly all the way home!" said Ricardo when I got back into the car. I did.

I really don't enjoy getting pulled over -- once in a day is sufficient! ;^)

Así es la vida! Such is life!


Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) said...

Wow! You are amazing... I can't imagine being so in control in that situation.

I also hate being pulled over. It's only happened a couple of times in my life, but it is devastating to me. I have a need to please people in authority.

Busymama Kellie said...

What an interesting story! It's fascinating to learn about how things are done in other countries. And you were so calm there, I'd probably be freaking out just handing over the cash to get it over with!

Rebecca said...

Probably, had the same thing happened a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have been so calm. We've had enough experience with the (few, but obnoxious) corrupt police here to know how to respond. Plus, actually knowing Spanish helps. If I couldn't understand what he was saying (and couldn't understand his buddies in the background telling him to just forget it) I would be intimidated.

Knowledge is power!!! ;^)

Reflections said...

LOved your story!!!! We are headed to Africa in two weeks. Might have a story or two like yours when I get back to tell.