May 23, 2006

Mexican Bribes

Category: Debian,Tech,Travel — Biella @ 11:12 am

Another Debconf has come and passed. This was my 3rd conference and surely to be one of the more memorable, partly because I showed up for the whole time (and am now traveling with 4 other DD’s in Mexico) and partly because of a few problems that plagued my visit. There is no doubt that I had a wonderful time but some of my attention was drawn away from enjoyment toward crisis management. For the first few days, it was due to computer problems (now sort of fixed) and then the last few days I had “Biella Hardware” problems in the form of one of the worst combo sore throats/ body aches that I have had in recent memory (now sort of fixed but not entirely).

Now that I am in Oxaca, I hope to spend a little time blogging about this year’s Debconf but before I wanted to pass along what I think has been one of the more amusing experiences thus far in Mexico. So yesterday a group of us (Jeroeun, Martin K, Micah, Vagrant) rented a car to head off to the Southern city of Oxaca. I have actually never rented a car in a foreign country, and I was a little concerned about everything from price to roads to cops. Amid my nervousness, the employee at Thrify was sort of reassuing and quite nice but he gave us some unfortunate news: he warned us that as we reached this one particular circular intersection in Mexico City we would be stopped by a cop (because we are tourists) and basically bribed. This was not surprising news to be but I was surprised at how upset this made me. (maybe because I have never had such an experience and thought I would mangle it when the time came to pass off the money or offset the bribe or whatever). Anyway, after we packed 5 bodies and copious luggage into our compact Nissan, we headed off somewhat prepared to face off the cop and decided it was best I drive as I was the Spanish speaker. We made our way through the congested streets and headed toward the intersection and as we got closer, I thought to myself “how are they going to spot us within all this traffic?” But you see, the thing about this intersection is as soon as you make the turn left, you hit a light and need to stop for a long time. And you see, this gives the cop ample time to switch on the “tourist radar” and spot the noticeable white bodies. Sure enough, within 30 seconds of stopping at the intersection, a Mexican cop walks over and there is where the fun began.

So he basically told me that I did not use my signal lights for turning when I made a left and that this infraction would cost me US $120. At this point I started to get a little freaked (I already dropped too much money on a rental car) but I remained calm and told him basically in Spanish “With all respect, officer, I think I used my light because I am in a foreign country and am very aware that I must follow all traffic rules.” After a little back and forth, I moved on to the “bribe stage.” While we were told that 100 pesos (10 US) was the typical bribe, we, being cheapskates, just offered 5 US. And then, magically, at that point, the officer said, “ok just go ahead and be careful not to repeat the offense next time.” I was shocked. I mean there was some money being offered right there and I was sure he was going to ask for a little more. But he backed off. Why?

I think it was a combination of factors. Ok so perhaps he was surprised that I knew what was going on. Perhaps he was uncomfortable that I knew Spanish. But I think he the tipping point was due to cultural factors. I think he found it odd that there was this little woman driving a car with 4 grown and pretty large men. Given the gender dynamics in the country, this was just beyond his cultural comfort zone and he realized that I was badassss, and he just backed off. Ok, so I don’t really know if that is what happened but I like the explanation and am glad I got off the hook :-)

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