Should We Have Greased A Palm Or Two?

02.March 2011

Post-Trip

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?

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17 Responses to “Should We Have Greased A Palm Or Two?”

  1. Matt Says:

    After my wife and I were married in Indonesia we went through the process of getting a Visa. Unfortunately the US wanted a government issued marriage certificate and not the church issued certificate we had. Those usually take up to 4 weeks to get (or so we were told). Thankfully some relatives had some contacts and after a ‘payment’ we had our form in a day. Would I do it again? Probably. But I do think it unfortunately continues the cycle of corruption which makes it harder for locals and future travelers so I have mixed feelings about it now. Where do you draw the line between being in a tough spot and and just wanting to take advantage of the system?
    Matt recently posted..What I Learned from Fighting

  2. jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World Says:

    The first thing my parents told my younger brother when he started driving was to keep a Rp 20.000 handy with him to smooth things out when (there’s no question of if here, just when) a traffic cop pulls him over.

    Sometimes you have to pick your fight when it comes to bribery. Unfortunately when it comes to immigration officers / people of the law it seems to be losing battle. It’s not that you can threaten to ‘take your business elsewhere’.
    jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..11 Steps to Get Your Ass Kicked by A Mountain

    • Matt Says:

      I remember my sister-in-law getting pulled over in Bandung and the polici taking her license and walking away. She followed him and 5 minutes later came back with her license and Rp 50.000 less in her purse. “That’s just the way it works here” is all she said.

  3. Lisa Says:

    When we were in Vietnam, we stayed in Da Nang with a couple who drove us around site seeing a couple of times. Jean Paul is from France and Vinh his wife is Vietnamese. Whenever JP drove we would get pulled over for ‘something’ and often would sit by the road while this official or that would scratch their heads and hum and haw and threaten to impound the car (even if we were in the middle of nowhere!) and then eventually JP end up paying a ‘fine’ and off we would go again. I asked JP why he just didn’t offer the money as soon as they stopped him. But he said it was a delicate balance and many years living in that country taught him that he was expected to play his role and they played theirs.
    Lisa recently posted..Next Steps

  4. Kim Says:

    I’ve never had a bribe experience but i’m worried about it! Neither Brian or I are the kind of people to even consider a bribe. We’d probably miss the opportunity if it presented itself. Plus, I’d saw we’re probably both a little cautious and I can’t imagine having the guts to offer up a bribe. Maybe we’ll surprise ourselves?
    Kim recently posted..Bolan Mountain Fire Lookout

  5. Lisa @chickybus Says:

    Good questions! And I’m not sure what the answers are. I’ve never been in an outright bribe situation, but in some where the line is a bit blurry. Perhaps if you see other travelers paying the ‘fee’ in a situation, which was initiated by the other party, you’re OK. Then, maybe it’s more official/generic somehow vs. a one-on-one case where it’s a bit too unique. I think. :)
    Lisa @chickybus recently posted..Monterrico- Madness- Mischief and a Pissy Pelican video tale &amp tips

  6. Kenan Lucas Says:

    Gareth’s predicament was hilarious and from an Immigration Official no less!

    Thankfully I have not (knowingly) been in a position where a bribe was sought but if in that situation I would struggle to think of what to do other than pay the “fine” – even if it continues perpetuates the cycle of corruption.
    Kenan Lucas recently posted..Good Evening Kuala Lumpur!

  7. Jeremy Says:

    I think the best way to approach it would be to ask if there is a fee that you could pay to make it happen. That way if you ever get busted just try and play stupid and be like “They said I could pay a fee because my documentation wasnt quite right” You sound more educated, and it places the blame back on the person that took it rather than yourself

    A few Egyptian guards at Karnak let us into a restricted area by way of a bribe tip. Was pretty cool, but I’m sure they have the signs of not being allowed in purely to make extra cash.

    • Amy Says:

      I totally forgot about baksheesh (tip) in Egypt! We were asked for that all the time, too!!! Someone will let you somewhere you’re obviously not supposed to be- sometimes guards, sometimes normal guys- and AFTER they’ve shown you whatever amazing thing it is, they ask/demand baksheesh. We had some guys follow us because we didn’t pay anything or enough!
      Amy recently posted..Dumpster Diving for Dinner and Back Riding a Bicycle in Amsterdam

      • Gillian Says:

        Ah…I haven’t been to Egypt but have hear of baksheesh. I thought it was more about tipping but I see that ‘tipping’ may be another word for bribe.

  8. Amy Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever really been asked for a bribe. Once in Italy, I was caught without a bus ticket- I was late for the train, it was Sunday, so good luck trying to find somewhere to buy a ticket and the controllers got on the stop before I was meant to get off. They told me the fine was €40 and asked for my passport. I told them I didn’t have it with me- I had left everything at my friend’s house (ok, not really true)- and I only had €20 with me (if they would have been observant, they would have noticed I had more than that in my wallet when I was buying my ticket and they were talking to me). They said I was in luck because €20 is the ‘student price’ (bullsh*t) and asked if I could spell my name for them to write on the ticket. I decided they could spell it however they wanted so I gave them my ‘bar name’: Emily Larson… not quite my name, but close enough that it could be just a mistake… and I let them spell it. I think it turned into ‘Emilee Lyarsoen’ or something crazy like that. Anyway, they had no way to track me down and best of all, I made my train! So, was it a bribe or not? I am not sure if it classifies, but it’s the closest I’ve had.
    Amy recently posted..Dumpster Diving for Dinner and Back Riding a Bicycle in Amsterdam

  9. Ayngelina Says:

    I havent had to give a bribe yet but I have no issues with it if it ends the problem.

    I´m heading to Tacna in the next week, why did you get herded into a room?
    Ayngelina recently posted..I don’t know what kind of meat it is but I want to eat it

    • Gillian Says:

      Ayngelina: There are a bazillion border-crossing ‘taxis’ operating at the bus station. Once one has your interest they will herd you into a room so you can’t be influenced by others who may be offering lower prices. It wasn’t scary, just a little overwhelming. Just keep your wits, go at your speed, and make sure you fully understand the transaction. They will try to rush you and say you must hurry…but there is always another ‘taxi’ that can help you. Good luck!

  10. Gareth Says:

    Hi Gillian. It’s nice to see that a comment from me has turned into an excellent topic for discussion. Thanks for mention.

    At the time of paying my ‘fine’ I was very conscious that it was, indeed, more of a bribe. I’m normally not as cool in situations like that, but it was clear that the officer was clearly looking to supplement his income and I didn’t have time to argue otherwise.
    Gareth recently posted..Taking the road well travelled

  11. Bocas Chick Says:

    What a fun read! I had a very similar experience when we had a trip to Boracay. Sometimes its better to keep an open eye for bribing situations. And it really works all the time :)
    Bocas Chick recently posted..bahia del sol