The Art of Artful Dodging: Avoiding Traffic Tickets in Chile

Carabinero-motoThe Chilean police—carabineros—are famous for being resistant to bribery. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about dealing with Latin American officials when you come to Chile. Don’t even THINK about offering them money; that’s a sure recipe for doom and a much closer look at the inner workings of a police station than you were bargaining for. But that doesn’t mean that carabineros always play it by the book. There are ways of getting out of that ticket looming large. I’ve heard plenty of stories about being let go…

Here are a few of my favorites:

Female Approach #1: Beautiful & Helpless
A very pretty young Chilean friend, a stunning model with no drivers’ license and little knowledge of driving, was, nonetheless, behind the wheel. She made an illegal left turn, entered the wrong way down a 1-way street, and was trying unsuccessfully to park in a no-parking zone when the local man-in-green asked her to step out of her car.

She’s a goner, right? No pu (which is Chilean for “nope”). Pretty and quick-witted, she flashes a big smile and puts on her very best gringa accent and says, “um… No…um… No sah-bair… estash-o-nahr…” (something that roughly resembles “no… to know…to park”), and throws in another big “I’m helpless” smile for good measure. He melted. Big bad meanie attitude out the window; Knight in Shining Armor to the rescue. Not only did she NOT get a ticket, but he actually stopped traffic and helped her back out and be on her way!

Now, would this work with a real gringa? Somehow I doubt it!

Female Approach #2: Turn on the Tears
In a word, cry. This seems to be the most common approach. Most of the women I know under 30 swear that this works every time. Most seem to discover this by accident the first time they get stopped and when they are really very scared and upset, “and I don’t have any money and my father’s going to kill me and I’ll never do it again, oh whatamIgonnadoooo boohoohoohoo…? Sob, sob, sob, look for tissues…sob, sob, sniff… Apparently it gets them every time, at least with the under-30s.

I can’t imagine cops anywhere falling for this kind of tactic from a man, who according to the universal rules of machismo, cannot cry or whine. And if they are even slightly intelligent, they should certainly know better than to show any sign of excess testosterone either. It’s man-to-man and one’s got the upper hand… and that hand’s holding a book of tickets. But still, there are ways…

Male Approach #1: The Absent-Minded Professor
Despite being stopped (and deservedly so) many more times than anyone could count, my husband has only received one ticket in his life… and that event is a story in itself, but I’ll save that for another day. He has an amazing ability to talk his way out of just about anything, usually without even realizing that that’s what he’s doing. He’s even had carabineros apologize for offending him, but that’s a tale that only he can tell…You see, he’s charming, intelligent, very polite… and extremely absent minded. Just the other day he was on the highway with his elderly mother in the car. It was about 4 pm when he got pulled over. The interaction went something like this:

“Your license and registration please.”

He pulls out all the papers he’s ever had related to the car and shuffles through them until the cop (or paco, in Chile), in desperation, points to what he wants. His papers are indeed in order and he knew he wasn’t speeding.

“Why don’t you have your lights on?”

He leans his head out of the window and looks up into the clear blue sky with a puzzled look on his face—completely oblivious to the law that has been in place for about 2 years that says that headlights must be on at all times while driving on the highway.

“But I’m just taking my mother on an errand…” (like that has anything to do with anything). She smiles (no tears, but now that I think of it, that would probably have worked very well too).

“You need to use your headlights on the highway.”

“Really? But I was just taking my mother…”

Realizing that my husband is a pretty harmless kinda guy, and perhaps confounded by what logic could possibly lie behind this clearly futile and seemingly endless loop of circular conversation, the paco shed mercy…

“Ok, don’t worry. You can go.”

“Thank you sir…” and puts the car in gear and starts to go. The carabinero stops him again…

“Turn your lights on… NOW!”

Oops! Red faced, lights on, and on his way…

Male Approach #1: Have a Charming Kid
Another friend, let’s call him Pedro, got stopped and knew he was doomed…went through that stop sign just a little too fast before he saw those ominous red lights atop the green and white car. His 3-year-old daughter sat in the back seat singing quietly to herself as he and the carabinero go through the required steps: the document checking, the accusation, the “Really? I didn’t see it” routine that they both know is expected but going nowhere, when suddenly the carabinero hears what the little one is singing… the Carabinero National Hymn!

The carabinero couldn’t believe his ears, and Pedro couldn’t believe his luck! It’s hard to tell who was most pleased.

You’ve got a nice little girl there mister. You have a nice day and be more careful next time.”

It turns out that the carabineros had recently visited her daycare center and taught them the song. She saw the uniform, made the association, and very innocently started on what well may be a long career of convincing carabineros to look kindly on wayward drivers.

9 responses to “The Art of Artful Dodging: Avoiding Traffic Tickets in Chile

  1. The story about the little girl is the cutest!!! Awwww!

  2. Yeah! … out of the mouths of babes and all that! They start young here!

  3. I find one of the following two phrases to be really quite effective.

    ‘Er, kaayyyy? No compwendo. Hablo un powkito de espanol solamente.

    ‘Chile? Siiii, muy lindo. Me encanta. Y las mujeres? Preciosas.’

    Only one ticket in 5 years. That one I couldn’t foreign my way out of🙂

  4. Ahhh! So the dumb-but-simpático gringo routine works for guys too! Has never worked for me though… well, once… kind of…. but that’s a story for another day!

  5. That’s funny about your Chilean friend who faked being gringa. A real gringa friend of mine got caught driving without a license and wasn’t so lucky. It’s not that she didn’t have one. She actually had an international license, but hadn’t switched it to a Chilean one when she became a resident.

    One of my former students loved to tell the story about her boss, who was from Belgium and sort of like your husband. He would get pulled over all the time and because he was just such a charming tourist, he would get let off every time.

  6. Oh! Matt that is hilarious! Compliment the women. Perrrfect!

  7. Hmmm- Sara- do you think if we started complimenting Chilean guys we’d get off? Probably not. Might get invited out though! (uuu, scary thought! certainly NOT what I’d want at ticket time!)

  8. Just discovered “Language Nerds” a cool blog that just happened to link this post. Check them out at: http://languagenerdadventures.blogspot.com/2009/05/when-to-use-bad-accent.html

  9. While people say “Paco”, I do not recommend it to say in the face of a Carabinero, it is considered disrespectful and offensive. And I say this with certainty because I am Carabinero!

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