Tuesday, July 7, 2009


One of the regular occurrences I quickly got relatively used to when I lived here—to the extent that you can get used to such a thing because you never do get used it—was being pulled over by the police. I blogged about it then and don’t want to repeat myself, but the roulage (traffic police) are terribly underpaid and extract their income by harassing citizens (and occasionally non-citizens like me). I am not sure what if any changes there have been here in that regard, but my initial impression was that things have become more professionalized. Their uniforms were nicer...plus I made a few trips without being stopped.

That changed. I was going downtown yesterday (Thursday) and got pulled over on Boulevard Triomphal in front of the stadium. It is a notorious spot. My friend who was driving got out of the car, showed his documents (which were in order) and had a long conversation outside of the car. He is very calm and has a great demeanor for this sort of thing. The way you handle these things are with patience. There was nothing that the cops could hassle us with, but the ways things work here are that once you hand over your license and carte rose (owner’s card), you are held hostage. Sometimes, you need to give some money to get them back. This is pretty standard. Back in the day (i.e. 2006), we were sometimes able to handle it sometimes without paying. If we did pay, it was usually a couple hundred francs (less than $1).

The recent experience had an amazing twist. My friend who was driving spent 20 to 30 minutes talking and refusing to pay anything. Apparently, the cop was asking something exorbitant, like $30. The cop then handed the license and carte rose to an old man who was sitting by the side of the road fixing shoes. The old man put them down his pants and the cop walked away. My friend, steamed, came back to the car, got 3,000 francs ($4 US) and gave it to the cobbler. He counted it, as if he was collecting money for a bill, and pulled the documents from his pants and returned them. The older man was a strange bagman—not too threatening or intimidating.

Bizarre. There are a couple of explanations. First, there has been some crackdowns from some supervisors against this kind of thing. This way, no money exchanges hands between drivers and police. Some supervisors (perhaps the same ones?) also shake down the traffic police who work under them, so they get a better rate by sharing with the shoe repairman than they do sharing with the boss.

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