Tag Archives: carabineros

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.

Santiago Cabbie Stories 1

I talk to taxi cab drivers (cabbies). I know there are other foreigners who dislike being singled out, who hate that “where are you from?” question that we always—always—get. But I really don’t mind. If I’m not in the mood to talk, I just say “Estados Unidos” and go back to whatever zoned out, tuned out pre-question place I was in … but usually I go for it… it’s an opportunity to get a tiny bit of insight into the life of someone I am not likely to cross paths with ever again. We’re a mutually captive audience for 10 or 15 minutes and I really like to hear their stories… and sometimes they want to hear mine.

Today my driver was a  nice grandfatherly type gent who proudly announced that he’d been working for 60 years. “Yep,” he said, in what I’m sure is a story he’s told a thousand times, “I started working when I was 10. I’m 70 now, and still going strong.” I urged him on as we zipped along through the public transportation fast lane in full-on rush hour. “I’ve been married for 44 years, and never an argument.”

“Aw, c’mon!” I tell him, “Everybody argues once in a while!” “Not once,” he insisted. “We didn’t own a thing when we got married, not even a plate, just the bed I slept on. She was 6 months pregnant, and we pulled together and did alright. Raised 4 kids and 12 grand children,” (while I’m thinking that this gentleman’s gentle wife probably would not be at all happy about him telling every gringa that comes along that she “had to get married” all those years ago…)

“I was a carabinero for 34 years,” he announced as we whizzed past the presidential palace. “I was right there inside La Moneda on September 11. It was really something.”

“I bet!” And I dared ask the question that we all learn quickly not to ask. “Were you an Allende supporter?” “Me? No, we were neutral!” Hmmm; a guarded answer if ever I heard one. I baited: “A friend of mine said that if it hadn’t been for the golpe, Allende would have simply been remembered as the worst President in Chilean history…”

I was fully aware that “golpe” is a very loaded word, and you can often spot a Pinochet supporter by their reaction. They call it the “pronunciamiento militar.” I wanted to see where he would go. He chuckled. “Yeah, he’s got a statue and everything.”

“A statue?” I’m really wondering where this is going…

“Here in Chile, everyone who screws up gets a statue!” Ah! Here we go! True colors! Not in any defensive or offensive kind of way. Just expressing his honest opinion to someone who genuinely wanted to know it.

“Do you know about President Balmaceda and the Revolution of 1891? 11,000 men died—11,000! And then he committed suicide—so what happens? He gets a statue… right there next to the obelisk in Plaza Italia (a key spot in the city).

He was just getting warmed up, and just as he gets to the part where he says, “yes indeed, it was once de septiembre that turned this country around, alright,” we came to my stop. Even so, I couldn’t help but notice that he was careful not to say it was Pinochet, but rather the events of the golpe that were responsible for the change.

Hmmm… whether or not he was truly “neutral” this particular carabinero was at least pretty diplomatic!