I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.
So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan traffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.
As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).
My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Uganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.
They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without permission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.
• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?
One of the kids that someone I met here takes care of here said he was thinking about being a judge when he grows up. When asked why, he said, “Really good corruption money.”
And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…
I was in Cairo gathering footage for some online Arabic modules. We were always expected to bribe people, but we never did. We would just back up and leave. Granted, they never accused us of already violating the law, so it’s not exactly like your situation.
We also found that the size of the camera made a difference in how much the “authorities” would interfere with our filming. A bigger camera meant we had more money.
Eventually, I think we upset someone, and our local contact got an “official” visit from the police. We left Cairo and finished filming in Alexandria, which was a much more welcoming environment.
i meant to leave a comment yesterday but just got caught up in my own mind and forgot. anyhow – the comment was that for some reason this post made me laugh out loud, in a moment when i really needed the laugh. thanks 🙂
Just a few days ago, I was taking my niece and nephew swimming in their new home in Beijing- a very western, gated community. When the front desk told me I had to pay to swim with them because I was a visitor… I found myself bartering my way out of paying. And I didn’t have to pay. Later I realized that I would have never even thought to barter about something like that… and I guess living in China I have adopted this view that everything is negotiable. Might be problematic now that I’m home in the US…
Pizza solves problems- universal truth.
Clint, I believe your stay in Russia was too short 🙂
In Russia, you can bribe just any person that has authority… well, really almost ANYONE. And it is commonly known that by bribing it is easier to achieve what you need. For example, in order to get accepted to university you may bribe head of the department. In order to pass some exams you my bribe professors. In the latter case, professors usually tell their “price list” in the beginning of the semester. However this is not going on in major universities.
Well, another thing. In Russia, there is a special police department that monitors traffic. They are commonly known for their bribing. They may even create a situation for you in which you are violating traffic rules in order to get bribed.
The alternative to bribing is relations. If you are a relative of someone powerful or you are in a good relationships with such person, then you bribe is usually just saying “I’m a relative/know very well Mr. X. I’ll call him right now and he’ll come and kick you arse.”
I myself had to bribe someone only once – the head of dormitory in university campus, so she did not give me a room-mate. I gave her a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates :). I felt so uncomfortable doing that, that now I believe this is the thing I don’t like doing most.
I think that bribing exists in every country. But in countries with less average income it is more common. I think you may bribe just anyone, it only depends on the amount of money/skins of dead alligators/other goods you offer. And I think the only thing that can resist bribing is higher morality of the person. So that in order to fight corruption, authorities should be sent to complete quests and when they gain +XP, they need to spend it only on “morality” instead of “strength”, “charisma”, “luck”, etc.
I like everyone’s thoughts. I have specific things to say, that I have learned since the incident and in response to your comments, but I’m on a time limit for this computer and about to run out. So, I guess I will respond more once I get to Ethiopia…
Great thoughts though. And yes, Lennon – it sounds like if I did stay in Russia for longer I might have had my “first” there. I’m surprised you were able to grow up there without much of it except that one incident you felt guilty about. Cool.
Brooke – I’m glad I made you laugh 🙂
Melissa – sounds like they come in handy so I hope you keep your bartering skills…just not with the police, k? 🙂
This didn’t exactly happen in a foreign country, but in junior high I went to a Spanish Conference at BYU, where students would recite poems they’d memorized, visit all types of cultural booths, etc. They had “policia” that would put you in their jail if they heard you speaking English, and you had to pay them in the fake pesos that were used at the conference.
Rob, that’s funny because I worked the French side of that conference (Language Fair) at BYU. I ran the prison for people who were caught speaking English. We never accepted bribes – instead we made them answer some questions in French, or complete some language activities.
But maybe the paying fake pesos to get out of jail was just a nice authentic touch put in place by some knowledgeable TAs.
My dad always says that ‘in life, birth and death are inevitable; everything in between is negotiable’. I’m really excited to see him bartering his way around Greece next year! Every time he senses a situation where he can pull out his negotiating skills he gets this mischievous gleam in his eye and I can tell he’s having fun with the person as he gives them a run for their money =o) I’ve always been amazed at the things he can pull off and “work out”. Good negotiating really is an art!
I never had to bribe, but I quickly learned that bartering in the marketplace is a standard in Guatemala and Mexico! Any American who doesn’t, or feels guilty doing it (which I did at first!) will frequently get taken advantage of. (I understand enough Spanish to notice a Mexican bragging to his friend about how much he got out of my friend, much to the chagrin of my friend’s wife…=o) ) I got better at it by the end of my trips, but it doesn’t come naturally! I always think about their families and how little the amount of money really is in USD and just want to give it to them anyway.
PS I didn’t bribe him, but I did talk my way out of a speeding ticket last week…He even had it all written up. Wheew. Close one. =o)
VeNicia, I’d like to know your strategy for talking your way out of speeding tickets?
Maybe I told you already, but I always thought it would be funny one day, when I get pulled over, to do this. Usually the police officer says something about how you were really going 14 miles over the speed limit, but he is going to do you a favor and only write a ticket for going 9 miles over. At that point, I want to ask the officer for his badge number, and tell him that I really don’t feel comfortable with the way he is manipulating the law like that. I want to tell him that I want the full penalty or else I am going to have to turn him in to the authorities.
Can you just imagine?
It is funny for me to think about, but I’m sure the reality of paying the full ticket price might not be equal to the amount of amusement received.
That story is HILARIOUS!!!! And the picture that the guy walking past took is what makes it even better!!!!
While in Kenya, we were not expected to bribe police; instead, you secure your way to get safely and comfortably through the road blocks by a small fee (sometimes every 20km or so).
That is nice to know that there is not so much bribery and corruption in Kenya, and that the police are so accommodating to help you get through those road blocks that they set up.