You are not in Iran any more my friend
I had just begun to get used to the grooved roads, and the wheel eating six inch deep two feet wide random holes in the main road, described in the earlier post, when I had my first wake up call that I was no longer in Iran. I was driving along the main highway after Merv when out of the corner of my eye I saw a policeman half wave his arm while talking to a stopped motorist, I looked in my mirror and he had disappeared so I thought no more of it and tootle along, I was doing about 65 on a road that I think has a speed limit of 70 or 80 judging by the way the locals were zooming past me, just then three cars nose to tail doing about 90 went past me but the last one contained the police man waving a wand at me, I pointed at myself in surprise and he indicated I should stop, so of course I did.
What followed was an attempt at what we would call “a standard police shakedown of the rich foreigner” after much shouting in my general direction and pretend annoyance, they kept pointing at a speed gun which had 90 on it even though I could not have been doing more than 70 – but it did have the desired effect of making me quite nervous, they asked to see and took my passport, then they asked for my driving license so I gave them a paper copy, this is an old overlanders trick to stop them holding your license to hostage for a bribe (they don’t usually hold passports usually it’s the license). Policeman number 2 was incensed by the paper copy and eventually after a comic tug of war when I tried to hold on to it, but show him, he pulled it out of my hand. To get me to pay they wrote up a pretend ticket and asked me to sign it, I just kept saying “don’t understand” a lot, and “90 not me” for about 15min. The first policeman then wrote €180 on a separate piece of paper and I simply said “no way”, then I mimed going to the police station to see his boss, and indicated that I would need to go to the bank.
One policeman then said “you follow us to bank” and I said “passport and driving license first” this then turned into a stand off, every time they said move, I said “passport and driving license” and folded my arms waiting by the side of their car, then I got out my translator and typed, “you give me back my passport and driving license and I will go to the police station with you to sort this out, I was not doing 90”.
I had kept the translator out of it intentionally up to now on the advice of others. This seemed to break the deadlock as one of the police said, a little hopefully “any cigars..” and I knew the game was over – just as I had been told by many of the old hands at the adventure overland show – their advice was just don’t pay, wait them out as you have more time than they do, and when they are talking to you they are not getting bribes from others. And it worked, with a rueful smile they handed back my documents and said in perfect English, OK mister off you go, and shook my hand in a kind of “no harm in trying” kind of way.
So for those of you of faint heart I can say that the advice works, and the more we all stick to it the less trouble the next folk will have. The four key elements, if it is a shakedown (not if you were actually speeding in which case you may want to look for a printed list list of the actual fines and just pay up) seem to be:
- Keep saying you do not understand if they do not speak English, they will become fed up with you.
- Always be serious but not flustered, stick to your guns respectfully, and try if possible not to give them original documents.
- Don’t start a negotiation about the amount, they know they are going to get something then.
- Offer to go to the police station with them to talk to their chief to sort out the misunderstanding, the last thing they want to do is to bring a tourist into their boss’s office.
I felt I did quite well, and I would not have know how to deal with it if it was not for the advice of some of my overland chums over the last six months, and more recently my friend Robin who got stopped a lot in Kyrgestan and reminded me of the copy licence trick,
I did however forget one trick, you can always be better and more witty when its not actually happening to you, I have running all the time a GPS satellite tracker, as I drove away I realised that I could have used that to prove it was not me that was speeding, next time I will be ready and hopefully that will save some time. Total time of the encounter about half and hour.
All that said it is an unnerving experience as a westerner, unused to such things, to be subject to this type of extortion and my adrenalin levels were up, and my speed was down, for a few hours afterwards – a rude reminder that I am not in Iran any more where such things would, I think, not be seen.