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The First Time I Ever Bribed An Eastern European Public Transport Official

My First Foreign Bribe

ROMANIA | Friday, 9 May 2014 | Views [793] | Scholarship Entry

Neither of us have a ticket or any local currency. Two minutes from our destination, four ‘controlori’, clad in black bomber jackets and baseball caps, board. Two of them argue in Romanian with Adriana. I get the gist.

Our tram pulls into the wasteland that constitutes the final stop, but we're not getting off. All four fat beasts circle us, each spitting abuse at Adriana; she argued back. She turns to me and says, “They’re angry because they make their money from bribes.”

A fines book is produced, and Adriana's identity card asked for.

“How much is the fine?” I ask.

“Not little.”

A glance at the fat man’s book reveals it has rarely been used. These guys aren't used to writing out fines. There's nothing in it for them if things are done officially. I feel around in my pocket. I know I've £20 notes and tenners in there, I now hope I've also got a fiver. I have. I delicately liberate the small note, careful not to reveal any larger denominations. I pull out the fiver as if it were a winning lottery ticket. The eyes of all are pulled to the magical sheet of paper. A visible aura surrounds it. I am of course exaggerating. But not overly. I wave away the writing of the fine with one hand, whilst raising the fiver to the sky in the other. One of the men reaches out for it, apprehensively. I pull it away quickly.

“I think you will find this takes care of any fine,” I say.

Adriana translates. The man takes the note and says something to Adriana.

“He says he will only fine me now and not add on the charge for you,” she tells me.

“No, no, no,” I say calmly. “I think you will find this takes care of both of us.”

The men look confusedly to Adriana for a translation. She obliges. They each take turns inspecting the note. They clearly have absolutely no idea how much it is worth in relation to their own currency, or should I say how little, meaning that my act has thrown upon it a perceived value severely higher than its actual worth. Inside I'm giggling, but I keep a serious demeanour and slowly take Adriana’s ID card from the man’s hand and pass it back to her, keeping eye contact the whole time with the man in question. He gently folds the fiver and puts it in his top pocket, before saying in English to the pair of us, “Go!”

We casually stroll down the steps and off of the tram, before disappearing quickly out of sight. It probably won’t take these excited men too long to realise that between them they have each just made the grand sum of £1.25.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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