02 Mar

Should We Have Greased A Palm Or Two?

After my post about overstaying our Vietnamese visa this comment by Gareth got me thinking:

Were we ever asked for a bribe and were too stupid to realize what was going on? Could we have had an easier time of it if only we had recognized that it was time to grease somebody’s palm?

I’ve racked my brain looking for situations where maybe I just didn’t realize what was being asked…

There was the time at the Peru-Chile border. We had to negotiate a shared taxi (collectivo) to cross from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile. The man touted us straight off the bus and proceeded to herd us into a small room where he spoke in broken English and quick Spanish to explain the options. He passed fluidly from Peruvian soles to Chilean pesos and American dollars, talking so quickly and throwing around so many numbers that we were utterly confused. In the end I think we paid 2 or 3 times what we should have but, no, I don’t think there was any hint of bribery; he was just good at the quick change.

The Brazilian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina was a perfect example of bureaucracy and maybe was a place where an ‘extra fee’ would have smoothed the process? We stood in line with our application, bank statements, itinerary, entry date, exit date, passport photos and fee money only to be told that we didn’t have quite the right documentation – we needed to prove that we were going to be on a particular bus and we didn’t have a bus ticket in hand. Defeated we left and I started searching on line for alternatives. I discovered that in Puerto Iguazu, right on the border with Brazil, there is a small office that issues visas. We gambled and waited until we got there to apply again. Remarkably, the office at Iguazu wanted none of our documentation; just our passports, the application and the visa fee. It would have been difficult to bribe an official at the office in Buenos Aires with all the security and cameras…but maybe it would have made a difference?

Hmmm…what about in Delhi when we tried to get into the airport but the guard wouldn’t let us in without seeing a ticket for departure, and all we had was an e-ticket that he wouldn’t look at? We looked at each other incredulously and wondered how the heck we were going to get out of the country when we couldn’t get into the airport? We patiently stood aside as he instructed until enough-was-enough and J got mad enough to make him find a supervisor. I wonder if some rupees slipped into his hand would have opened the doors…or helped us see the inside of an Indian jail?

That’s the thing; how do you know if a bribe is appropriate or a quick ticket to jail and a visit from your foreign ambassador? I mean in Canada even the hint of bribery can land you in some pretty hot water and we’ve all heard about, or read stories of, people being thrown in jail and accused of lord-knows-what for making stupid mistakes.

As can be seen from my reaction to being innocently one day over our visa in Vietnam (red-faced, shaky, sweaty) my body would give away any attempt at being subtle and nonchalant about the whole thing and it would clearly look as though something untoward was going on.

So no…I don’t think there were any bribery opportunities for us and thank goodness because, for sure, we would not have handled it as well as Cool Hand Gareth did!

Do you have any bribery, or near bribery, stories to share?