Being asked for a bribe is one of the things that travellers fear the most, but they could be doing you a favour, regardless of legality.
“Abroad” is full of “them”. Who do I mean? Oh you know the ones. The sort that aren’t in OUR native countries. The people who are out to spot foreign registered vehicles, or people who dress differently. Some even say they can detect the peculiar twangs of an English accent from up to 50m away through rush hour traffic. But, do “they” aim to hunt “us” in such a way, or is it all blown out of proportion?
The first time that I drove, with my wife, to Dubrovnik we were victims of our own stupidity. Like many others, I hope, we did not realise there is a small section of Bosnia between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatia. Queue our first interaction with the dark side of border crossings.
Passing through the Croatian side at around 10pm was simple, then we approached the Bosnian. Between it and us stood the man that we will be discussing. The interaction was simple and to the point.
“License and registration”
“Hello, here you go”
“Where are you going to?
“Do you have a green card”
“Hmm…no we didn’t realise we needed one.”
“Aha, well you need one and there isn’t anywhere open to get it until tomorrow. Drive over there (parking next to the checkpoint) and I will come to you”
“So you do not have a green card?”
“Ok so you cannot pass, or do you have some euros?”
“How much is it?”
“How much do you have?”
“Well…let me check…….none, actually erm…”
“I cannot let you through”
Rather remarkably my wife then started walking away from this heavily armed man towards the Croatian border guard shouting back to me:
“I’m going to go and see if this is normal”
Realising that the game was up he composed himself with a cough and a slight tilt of the head and informed us that our number plate would be noted, but this time we were free to go as long as it is just to Dubrovnik. We asked no questions, or said a word to each other. I grabbed the papers from his hand – shot out something that sounded like thank you and sped away.
What a helpful man. And yes, I mean helpful.
When I first started driving around the world I dreaded this situation, but it wasn’t the sort of situation normally feared – the one where you do have all of your documents, but a “page in your passport is missing”. He had every right to send me away and not let me through – which would have meant additional expense for us as well as time and rearranging the trip. Instead, he saw we weren’t a threat and tried to get a little something for his troubles. If he was going to break the law then he may as well get something for it.
Yes, in situations where you have everything you need but are still stopped and asked for “more” then I do not differ from the norm in giving my sympathies – but this is an entirely different beast.
This terror is also the object of much analysis when wannabe adventurers consider their participation in the Mongol Rally – something we are planning to do and therefore are currently reading up on.
Although there are some stories out there that would make even the bravest or most foolhardy, depending on your perspective, reconsider, there are also those keen to blame others for their error of judgement.
If you are in the depths of Mongolia and do not have valid insurance you have no right to complain when a public servant carries out their job effectively. The bribe aspect of it, although morally questionable at best, is the last thing to worry about. Because what are your alternatives in this situation?
Have your car seized? Be taken to the police station and wait for an interpreter and then put through the system with all the fees and hassle that will entail? A short stint at the Prison Hostel Mongolia?
Bribing them saves you both time and money, even if you trade some of your morality away – although I’d imagine your morality may be more inclined to float away whilst being interrogated in Ulaan Batar.