A FINE TACTIC

Last weekend I was doing a bit of shopping, which took me all over the city center by metro. I had my camera with me, and took advantage of the multiple stops and transfers by taking photos of some gorgeous underground stations.

Komsomolskaya Circular boasts one of the most beautiful Moscow Metro pavilions. The stop is linked up to a major railroad hub, which includes three long-distance rail stations plus a commuter rail, and certainly makes an impression on a weary out-of-towner setting foot in the nation’s capital for the very first time.

Komsomolskaya Circular metro station

Komsomolskaya Circular metro station

As such, it is teeming with police, keeping a close watch on illegal immigrants, potential security threats and…possible sources of extra income?

One such enterprising gentleman approaches me in the middle of my photo-sesh. He is sporting the most smug, self-satisfied grin on his round, ruddy face, which suddenly is hovering about four inches above mine from atop his 6-foot-2, 250 lbs frame.

– Ma’am, are you aware that the Metro is considered a ‘closed object’? (= restricted area)

– Is it, now? What does that mean?

– That means that photography is not allowed in the stations.

Now, I know that this is complete and utter bullshit, so right away I know where he’s going with this. Next up he’s going to ask me for my passport, he will check it out and tell me that my “documents are not in order.” That’s the standard line that the extortion-oriented law enforcement folk feed to the foreigners or the out-of-towners. Then he would tell me that I need to pay a fine if I do not want to be taken to the metro police station for a thorough interview.

Ha. As if. We never got to the documents part.

Instead I say:

– Actually, I think it means that you’re full of crap, because the Metro is a public space where photography is allowed, as it says so in black and white in the Rules and Regulations of the Use of the Moscow Metropolitan posted in every station and  metro train car. But of course you figured: a rail hub, a camera – got to be some naive out-of-towner who doesn’t know the law. I DON’T THINK SO.

And I walk away while he is still picking up his jaw off the floor.

Metro map posted inside a train car

Metro map posted inside a train car

Metro map detail: note the smiling green camera. Photography allowed!

Metro map detail: note the smiling green camera. Photography allowed! 

_____________

Sadly I know that in Russia incidents like this are a dime a dozen, especially for expats and tourists. I’ve read a blogger’s account where he pretended to call the British consulate when a crooked Metro cop told him that his documents were not in order, and that he better pay up. It worked out for him – the policeman told the dude to carry on.

But I think I have a better tactic, and one that doesn’t involve being a smart-mouth or carrying a Moscow residency passport.

Say yes to the fine.

You heard me right. Say that you will pay the fine. Then ask the officer to issue a ticket for the alleged violation. If your docs are fine and if you hadn’t broken any serious laws, I’ll bet half a kingdom that he won’t.

Here’s the deal with proper fines: all of them have to have a paper trail and all of them have to be paid to a ‘higher authority,’ through a bank. This is pretty much the opposite of what your wannabe-extortionist wants. He is relying on intimidation tactics to get you to hand over a couple of thousand rubles nice and quick.

Issuing a fine means that 1-he is not getting the cash, which is his sole purpose for stopping you if you hadn’t actually done anything wrong; and 2-he has to give up his identity, thus exposing himself to a potential investigation should you contest the fine (issued on a basis of a fake charge) and/or report the incident to a higher authority.

Unfortunately there is still a lot of corruption in Russia’s daily life, but now there are also real efforts to fight it, and more and more I am seeing evidence of authorities really caring about the welfare of the people – which is why a cop won’t bet his career on such a high risk, zero reward move. No money, mo’ problems.

And off you go, on your merry way, cash still in your wallet.

So, if you are in Russia* and are being told to pay a fine, on the spot, please remember this phrase, and repeat it over and over to a jackass who is trying to take advantage of you: “Vypishete shtraf, pozhalujsta.” “Write out the fine, please.” As I said, he won’t.

_________

*I think this tactic can work in many other countries with questionable law enforcement practices. At the end of the day, all they want is a quick payout and anonymity, and an official fine issuance takes away both. Just remember to operate under a very reasonable assumption that all fines have to be paid and processed through proper channels – after all, the legislators writing laws and the bureaucrats administering punishments do not want to be robbed of their share either.

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34 thoughts on “A FINE TACTIC

  1. This happened to me in the former East Germany. I was fresh out of university, on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and the guy had a gun. I paid the fine.

    I actually admired the guy a little. He was the only person I met in East Berlin who showed any kind of entrepreneurial flair. Nobody else there seemed interested in taking my money.

  2. Your tactic makes a lot of sense. This is the kind of thing I would panic and fall for.

    I love the image of a smiling green camera – I think I am going to start putting them around the house.

    • I think the reason I didnt panic is because I have heard so many of those stories already, so it was kind of an expected thing. But as a first-timer especially in a foreign land I probably would too. Eeek.

  3. That little weasel…! Should have taken a mugshot of him and started a blog on crooked officers. Or a facebook page! Complaining to the police directly, I’m guessing, won’t work. Too many are at it 😦

        • Ooopsy, I was reading it backwards. I just came in from the outdoors, my brain is still frozen 🙂

          But Yay on Denmark. I keep hearing good things about the Danes 😉

          • They are a happy bunch 😉 We could definitely do worse! 🙂 Today I have moved from my bed to my kitchen to my sofa. That is all. People are outside scraping the snow away – I’m still in my pjs 😉 But I have to work so I’m not being totally lazy. Much.

          • I am heading out for a 2-hr walk of nighttime Moscow after it gets dark 🙂 And I had my riding lesson yesterday, of course. Embracing the winter!

          • Should be dark in a couple of hours I guess! I will leave at some point – I need food 😉 Riding in the snow… sounds impossibly romantic but I guess it was just impossibly cold!

          • Still training indoors, but once the ground freezes we can go on forest rides again. It IS very beautiful and romantic, and not cold at all.

  4. Oh this is great! I love it 🙂 I’m in the middle of writing a guest post for Polly’s blog on the various ways you will get swindled in Moscow… I’m gonna link to this)))

  5. Nice scam! Wow – he clearly picked the wrong “tourist” to mess with. Well done.– Love the shot of the station BTW – that ceiling is amazing 🙂

  6. What a creep. I hate that nonsense like this still goes on, in so many countries. I love your recommendation. I normally just resort to bitching to the full extent of my capability (which is Olympian) and wait for them to become exasperated and move along. Your approach seems to be quicker and less stressful for all involved. 🙂

  7. Pingback: A DANGEROUS SUBJECT | Home & Away

    • Well, they wouldnt REALLY mess with you if you’re a proper, legal foreigner. If you’re not giving up the cash, you can just keep saying ‘i dont speak russian’ and demand to call the consulate 🙂

    • Like they hit a goldmine – their intimidation worked! Honestly though, I am the WORST at comebacks. I only had this one bc I’ve heard of similar instances before and bc I am always taking photos on the Metro. Also, when he stopped me, he 1-didnt even properly introduce himself (they’re supposed to salute and then give their name and rank before asking for anything – that’s actually what the cop last night did when he asked the suspicious woman for her docs/phone), 2-he did it in the less pretty/glam part of the station, after I just spent 20 min running around that gold pavilion, snapping photos of all the mosaics and whatnot, in full view of about 20 patrol cops (sometimes just a couple of feet away), and not one of them said a word.

  8. Well done Anna. They certainly zoomed on the wrong “tourist” here LOL!
    An inspector tried to charge me for a ticket in Berlin. I have a monthly pass which is automatically sent to me and which I pay by direct debit. I was teaching on the outskirts of Berlin and he said that I was in Brandenburg and to pay a cash fine. Yeah right.
    I refused! He asked for documentation. I showed him. I asked for his. A very slow acknowledgement. I too scrutinised it slowly. I asked him to send me a bill as I had my address on the back of my passport.
    A week later. I got a letter. Ooops!
    I still protested and went to the local office. He was right. I was in Brandeburg – a legal change that had recently shifted one city from inside the city of Berlin to outside the city of Berlin! Anyway, I didn’t have to pay in the end ‘cos I wasn’t supposed to have been fined at all as I had a relevant monthly pass. Just a verbal warning perhaps. Hmm!
    The moral of the story. Know your rights!

    • OOOH, interesting, an incident with the straight-and-narrow Germans! What I’d like to know is, if you WERE supposed to pay a fine, was the cop allowed to ask for a cash one? Or was he trying to pocket some dough, and that’s why he didnt write out a ticket/say you’ll get one in the mail straight away?

  9. Pingback: On (Not) Getting Swindled in Moscow - A Girl & Her Travels

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