Word Count: 803
Over the past month or so, the Unsleeping Eye has reported an uptick in foreigners being caught in a new Romanian scam. As far as I can tell, this is only happening in Bucharest, the chaotic near-lawless capital of Romania, where taxi drivers have single-handedly done their best to ruin foreigners’ first impressions of the country for years.
Just today, I picked up this blog entry from a crochet-loving traveler:
That day we had a little rest before gulping a lot of coffee and heading into the centre.
After only half an hour of walking around we bumped into another bad experience, apparently jay walking here is illegal! The police cajoled us into giving them 30 euros, it should have been double but for whatever reason he let me off.
Since then we have learnt that this is a tourist trap in many Eastern and Central European big cities so watch out!
I’ve never seen it or heard of it anywhere here in Moldova or Ukraine, so no idea how “eastern” an idea it is. Sounds more like Prague and Budapest to me, but I digress.
Here’s another example of Bucharest police terrorizing foreigners:
A screaming pensioner was hauled off the street by police officers – after reports she crossed a busy road without waiting for the pedestrian green light. Three burly officers grabbed and bundled the distressed woman into a car when she allegedly refused to show them her ID documents.
The incident occurred on the crowded streets of the Romanian capital Bucharest, and the woman was fined £82.
60 euros? 82 pounds? Insane.
Yes, jaywalking is technically illegal in Romania, and yes, it is sometimes genuinely enforced by Bucharest police. But if you’re a foreigner who is visiting Bucharest, there is no legitimate reason for the police to fine you 30 euros, three bucks, or a single cent.
How to Protect Yourself
If you’ve read any of my guidebooks, you’ll know that it’s easy to protect yourself against paying the police. Mind you, these rules only apply to foreigners. Romanians know the laws, and are responsible for upholding minor ones like when/how to cross the street. They also do not pay 82 pounds (roughly 4 million old lei).
If you’re a foreigner visiting Bucharest, unless you commit an armed robbery or a murder, the police will never arrest you. I don’t know what happened to the “pensioner”, but clearly that was a weird and unusual event. Yes, the police will stop you, and try to bully you, but they usually have no right to arrest you unless it’s a serious crime involved.
Note: If you’re super unlucky and the cops throw you in a car, start screaming and yelling, and use your phone to dial 112 (the emergency number) and tell the dispatcher what’s going on. Most phones that work in Europe can make 112 calls for free without any credit/minutes.
Fuck the cops, no offense. This isn’t a world of Law and Order, where the dedicated but honest detectives are doing their best to protect the innocent. Cops in this part of the world are either a) criminals, or b) working with known criminals in their ranks. As my friend Matt once said, “In Romania, it’s the government which is the mafia.”
Rule #2 is never pay a cop a dime unless you’re in a police station. Paying fines or tickets on the street is idiocy. If they want their money so badly, make them transport you to a police station. Call them on this bluff and they’ll never take you anywhere unless it’s serious.
If they fill out a ticket and hand it to you, and you DON’T pay them, then you’ll have the right to contest the ticket in court, and the cops don’t want that. So they often do the “bargain” of “pay me half in cash now”. If you do that, they rip up (or don’t even write) the ticket, and just go blow your money on booze and chocolate.
And if you know you’re innocent, start yelling the word “embassy”. Romanian cops like to do their deviltry in-house, and the last thing they want to do is get a bunch of outside agencies involved. The paperwork involved for why/how a foreign embassy was called (much less on a jaywalking ticket) would be career suicide for most low-level cops in Romania.
Again, if you’re a serial murderer, this advice doesn’t apply to you – I am writing for the innocent tourists who keep losing a ton of money to crooked cops in Romania.
If you follow my advice, you’ll be fine. If you get scared of a couple of idiot Bucharest cops, then go ahead and pay the wuss tax. And then don’t forget to budget at least 100 euros for a 2-kilometer taxi ride ;)
AND NOW YOU KNOW!