Corruption is everywhere. It’s one of those lurking things that goes claw-in-claw with too much power. If you are a traveler you will run into it at some point, and how you deal with it makes all the difference. If Valkimir the wall-eyed traffic cop pulls you over because your headlights are too right (I’ve seen it happen folks), and demands $100 or you’re going to spend the night sitting on a concrete bench surrounded by lady-boys, you need to know what to do. Here are some tips to help make Valkimir go home.
Don’t Fight for Your Rights.
If you are overseas, you have no rights. It doesn’t matter what the overall laws are in a country, it all comes down to Valkimir and what he feels like doing. He can make up some random law and fine you for something totally bogus if he wants to. Sure you can complain about it, but have you ever tried explaining a legal issue in the government office of a foreign nation?
Let’s put it this way. What is your favorite sports team, or America’s Got Talent act? You love them right? If you saw them at a restaurant you would half-secretly take pictures and live tweet them drinking soup through their eyeballs; or throwing footballs or something less interesting. N
ow imagine the competition, who you loath, comes to you and says they are cheaters and the soup isn’t even real, nor are their eyes. Even if they said it with sincere tears and begged you to listen, your immediate reaction would be to punch that person straight in the throat, right? Why? Because they aren’t one of your people, they are the enemy. It’s the same in the corruption scene. A government official is going to defend Valkimir if only to enjoy the fact that they finally have the power over the imperialist dog who is forced to interact with them.
Get Their Name, and Smile
Getting and officer’s name is an extremely powerful tool for a couple of reasons. One, when you speak to them using their name, it makes you more human to them. Officers of the law may wear a uniform but they are still human beings. It is a lot easier to blackmail someone you don’t know or don’t like. If you address them by their name and smile, the chances they will go through with the scam drop dramatically. Half the time they will be so disarmed they will literally say something like, “Your brake light was flickering, but it looks fine now. Make sure you get that checked out,” and walk away.
Showing any anger at all is the fastest way to get the biggest fine they can come up with. They already don’t like you because your are a foreigner, and if you are from a developed nations they see a giant dollar sign behind the wheel. Cursing them out does nothing but make it more satisfying for them when they buy that new Folex watch.
3. Have Local Police Contacts
No official wants to look bad, even in a totally corrupt nation. Why do you think some of the most evil dictators throughout history have gone through epic efforts to have propaganda created that makes them look amazing? Even in precincts where everyone knows everyone else is corrupt, they tend to act on a more don’t ask, don’t tell strategy. Before you go you should get the phone number to the local police, and names as well. If you are being busted on bogus claims, politely suggest that you are going to call Valkimir’s captain and do so if needed. An even stronger strategy would be to go straight to the police station as soon as you arrive in the country and meet the Captain personally, get his cell number. If you can do that corruption is unlikely to be an issue at all. Even if the captain is corrupt himself, he will almost certainly reprimand the officer ripping you off to make himself look good. Name dropping has great power!
Get Other Locals Involved.
This goes along with involving people at a higher rank. If you are in a public area, try involving a local or two if you can. They may not know what’s going on, but usually someone is willing to stand up for the foreigner being taken advantage of, and they can do it with far less risk than you. Also, locals, just like in the States, are more than happy to go to the news about it if they think they can get on TV. Officers know this and will usually change their tune and put away their wallet.
Don’t Pay the Bribes.
For many people this is a morally gray area. They don’t see any issues with paying bribes if it will get them out of the immediate predicament they find themselves in. There are huge problems with paying though. First, as you probably know it simply feeds into the corruption culture, making it more likely the guy behind you is going to get ripped off too. But beyond that, paying bribes often comes back to bite you. Once they know you will pay, they will often either make something else up to get more out of you, or they will call their buddy down the road and tip them off about you. There is also always the chance that they will get you to pay, and then arrest you for bribing an officer to show everyone how “anti-corruption” they are.
6. Always Have Your Papers at Hand
I can’t stress this enough. When you are driving/walking around you need three things on the dashboard, or in a cup holder, or anywhere you can grab within two seconds. You need your passport (with a piece of tape on the page with your visa stamp so you can turn to it fast), driver’s license, and insurance papers for your vehicle. Those are the most common things you will be asked for.
Often you will get waved/pulled over by police simply because they are curious about what you are doing there. It is in the time they ask you for papers, and you are fumbling around in a panic that they start looking for ways to make money off of you. If you can immediately produce them with a smile like a pro, they lose that window and don’t have time to make up something to get you for without a creepy awkward silence. It isn’t full-proof, but it has been proven to work hundreds of times now. If you are driving and an officer at a check point is checking everyone, hold your license and passport out the window at them as you arrive, half the time Valkimir will just wave you on.