Friday, January 15, 2010

The art of the Mexican traffic stop.

I know that Mexicans get pulled over, too, but it really FELT like we were being picked on last weekend for Driving While American as we were pulled over while going the same speed as everyone else. I believe we were going the equivalent of 40mph in about a 35mph zone (or, at least, what SHOULD be a 35mph zone). We've been warned about this particular spot right over the border from the state of Nayarit into the state of Jalisco.

During our first two months here, we slowed to about 20mph every time we hit this spot to keep from getting pulled over, but all I ever saw was a couple of transit police chatting under a Corona awning, so I got a little lax. We both got a little lax, actually. That and, well, there was quite a bit of traffic last weekend and I hate being the gringa who drives like an old lady because she's afraid of getting pulled over. I'm assuming Scott feels the same way and that must be why he didn't slow down until AFTER the cop pointed the radar gun at us.

The three transit cops were standing on the side of the road (not in the median where they usually hang out). They were joking around with each other and then, BAM, one guy whips around and points the gun at us like he's Jack Bauer. Except it's a radar gun. Before he can even look at the screen of the gun, he points to Scott and waves him over to the side of the road.

I'm still wondering: What would he have done if we'd just kept driving? Hmm...I'll never know.

We are good citizens, so we pulled over, and here is the conversation that ensued. It apparently went quite differently from how we should have played it, based on advice my dad has given us, which I must have forgotten but Scott schooled me in it as soon as this interaction ended. Here it is, translated to English.

Cop: Hello, sir, can I have your driver's license?
Scott: Huh?
Cop: You speak Spanish?
Scott: No hhhhhhablo español.
Hill: Give him your license.
Cop: Oh, you speak Spanish?
Hill: Yeah.
Cop: You speak Castellano?
Hill: No. (Is he asking if I'm from Spain or if I speak with a Spanish dialect and, who really cares because the answer to both is no, right? Or maybe I do speak Castilian Spanish and that's why I use the wrong words for so many things. I should go to Spain sometime. But why is he asking me?)

Cop goes to talk to his buddy and grab the radar gun.

Cop: You were going over the speed limit. (Shows us the back of the radar gun which means nothing since they've clocked about ten more people by this time.) Tommorow you will come back to see the judge and pay a 750 peso fine. That's a fifty percent discount. The judge will give you back your license.
Hill: Can't we pay it here?
Cop: No because I can't give you a receipt.
Hill: I don't need a receipt.
Cop: You must have a receipt.
Hill: I don't need a receipt and he (Scott) has to work tomorrow so we can't come back. Can we pay it here?
Cop: No, you need a receipt or someone will think you are paying a bribe. You have heard of Mexican cops taking bribes, right?
Hill: Can't I just pay it here?
Cop: You must have a receipt.
Hill: I can't come tomorrow.
Cop: Will you tell other people if I let you pay here?
Hill: Of course not. (Who would I tell? Heh heh.)
Cop: I don't want to get into trouble for not giving you a receipt.
Hill: How much do you want? (As I go through my wallet and see that the only bills I have are a 500 and a 100 peso bill. Grrr.)
Cop: Three hundred. Here is the paper.
Hill: What do you want me to do with the paper?
Cop: (Moves to the other side of the car where the other cops can't see.) Put the money in the paper so nobody sees.
Scott and Hill scramble to scrape together 300 but only come up with 260. Cop looks nervous.
Cop: It's fine, it's fine, put it in the paper.
Scott puts the money in the paper and hands it to the cop. He gets his license back.
Hill: So, what IS the actual speed limit here?

The cop gave us some crap about how it's the equivalent of 20mph except during school when it's like 15mph. We know he must be crazy because this is a highway, not a little back road, there is no school in sight, and Mexicans drive like maniacs no matter what time of day it is or how many little kids are in the road and REALLY they should be getting pulled over every day on every street in our town for all of the many traffic violations they commit but have we ever seen anyone get pulled over anywhere but at THIS spot? NO! And is this fair or safe or reasonable or even civilized? NO. This is Mexico. Welcome!

Call it paying our dues. I thought our dues were paid with the four episodes of Dengue, but the police must not have gotten that message. Done. Dues paid! And now we can say we've paid a...oh, I can't type that word here. I don't want to get our friendly cop thrown into a Mexican jail!

For future reference, the advice my dad gave us was to:
  1. pretend we don't speak Spanish (easy for Scott).
  2. let the cop have our license.
  3. play it like we don't care that he has our license and tell him we'll be back to see the judge tomorrow.
The idea is that you call the cop's bluff, assuming that he just wants you to pay the "ticket" here and he doesn't want to send you to the judge. The problem is that I don't WANT to have to get a new driver's license (or get one for Scott) if we're wrong, you know? And I REALLY don't want to come back tomorrow to pay the judge more than twice what I'd pay if I get it done here and now.

So it worked out okay. It was only 260 pesos, which comes out to about $20. And we've heard that 250 pesos is the going rate for a "ticket" so we didn't do too badly.

Now I must go find a screwdriver and remove our front license plate. Because I swear it was the American license plate that got us pulled over.

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