Put yourself in these shoes; Instead of shoes, try uncomfortable boots that probably don’t fit. Add a ridiculously oversized hat, a 1930’s whistle with truncheon and an extremely repetitive job whereby you get much of the same thing everyday. Even waving around your gun that you’ll never actually use gets boring. This is the life of traffic police in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Russia, and even the Middle East. When a tiny battered up car rocks up, covered in stickers, crewed by drunk people in fancy dress, flashing a badge that says “I have more money than sense” in the form of a GB plate, one could be forgiven in assuming that your day might be made.
This sight even in the UK is intriguing and would spark even the dullest bobbie to ‘have a gander,’ so whilst being harassed by foreign police might be annoying, you should look at it as part of the fun.
Even so, some police in distant lands have not had the luxury of a well-rounded education and might not take too kindly to a bunch of 20 somethings dressed as pirates trying on official hats, being shot at with cap guns or being offered a swig of cheap rum and coke from a water bottle. The latter would be most unwise if other police, particularly ones with bigger hats are near by. By rule of thumb, the bigger the hat, the more important (they might think) they are. So to avoid paying through your nose, wallet or other appendages, try to stick to these guidelines.
1. Travel In Convoy.
The car at the front of the convoy will be spotted a mile off and then waved down. Police then generally expect just one car to follow this instruction. If all of a sudden over five GB plated cars pulling over with everyone hopping out to stretch their legs with all eyes on the authoritative figure, one might be hastily expected to move along. In fear of being completely out manned and out gunned with witnesses, an officer usually decrees that this particular unwashed, smelly Westerner isn’t worth the hassle.
2. Be Grateful
Immediately shake their hand, show them your map and indicate how hopelessly lost you may or may not be. Police do have a sense of duty and care. Make sure you indicate that you need their help, reinforce their sense of pride and authority. After all, it can’t hurt to confirm with someone that you are heading the right way. You might even scrounge some local knowledge like the distance to the next petrol station of if any roads are closed ahead.
3. Keep Calm And Do The Dance.
For a start, you might actually have missed a stop sign or gone over the speed limit. There’s likely to be a reason for them to have picked that particular spot to flag you down so be aware of what you are being accused of. You can politely request them to show you what you have done and if the lack of any evidence arises then you can afford to be a little more lighthearted. If you are asked for an on the spot fine, point out that you are in search for a cash machine after doing the ‘pocket dance’ (Otherwise known as the ‘Keys Please shuffle’) yielding nothing but a broken lighter, a Nokia 3310, some change from the last country you were in and a load of suspicious looking lint.
4. Say Hello And Offer A Souvenir.
Actually start the conversation. Smiling helps. Indicate that you are a tourist, not someone working for a high rolling oil firm. It is a brilliant idea to take trinkets such as novelty Union Jack sunglasses, Big Ben snow globes or a box full of flags sporting the red, white and blue. These will be much cheaper than having to disperse $20 bills left right and centre and can sometimes be used as currency with certain mechanics. Particularly for tyres.
5. Be Charming.
In Kazakhstan, if you are caught throwing a cigarette butt out of your car window you can face up to five days in prison (with questionable human rights issues). Now you know. If you didn’t, you need to make sure that you are ‘frightfully sorry,’ and ‘it certainly will not happen again sir,’ after deliberately misunderstanding the accusation, immediately offering a cigarette.* Laws are different everywhere and police do not expect foreigners to know all the local customs, but you are expected to be respectful of them. This also includes finishing the bottle of Vodka once it has been opened…
*NB; If you didn’t smoke before the rally, you should. It is recommended that you stock up on cigarettes from Romania since they are the cheapest ones that you could pass off as being from ‘back home.’ This is because the further East you travel, the alphabets change and language becomes increasingly exotic but people are still keen to sample Western tobacco wares.