When you get pulled over by a Mexican traffic cop, ninety-nine times out of a hundred the only thing on the cop’s mind is shaking you down for a bribe. No exaggeration—I’ve been pulled over a hundred times, and only once did the cop not want a bribe. He took my rear license plate instead and I had to send my maid to Guadalajara (a six hour bus ride) to go fetch it. That guy was in a really bad mood, like he hadn’t moved his bowels in a month.
1. Make sure that your wallet contains only slightly more money than you wish to spend on your bribe. The rest you can stash in your underwear.
2. Always appear calm and unhurried. The cop is always in a hurry—he’s the one breaking the law and he doesn’t want to get caught. So take your time and smile casually, like you haven’t a worry in the world.
All right, now we have to divide these instructions into two parts: for those who speak decent Spanish, and for those who don’t.
3. If you don’t speak Spanish: Just keep smiling and shaking your head and shrugging your shoulders. If the cop has to switch to his limited English, you are already ahead of the game. Keep this up as long as you can. You just don’t understand a word he is saying. Eventually he will be forced to either abandon his quest, or come right out and ask you for money.
4. If you speak Spanish, or if the conversation has switched to English: After the cop has gone over his bogus reasons for pulling you over, tell him how sorry you are, and then shut up. The cop will probably start talking about the gravity of your non-offense. Keep agreeing with him. Then he will tell you that he must confiscate your vehicle and that you are to follow him to either the impound lot (correlon) or to police headquarters.
5. Tell him politely than you don’t think that is a good idea. Then go into as long a spiel as possible about what a tough job the cop has, and how little he is paid, and what a shame that is. Then tell him that you are not going to follow him anywhere, but that you would like to help him out.
6. The imaginary fine will now be cited (if it hasn’t already) in order to inflate the bribe. Then he will either suggest an amount for the bribe, or ask you to. If he asks you, name a low figure like 50 pesos. If he mentions a number, respond by telling him you can’t possibly afford more than a hundred. What we are aiming for here is a bribe of 200 pesos (about $16. USD).
7. Bargaining will ensue. Be polite but firm. You can’t pay more than 100 pesos and you are not going to follow him anywhere.
8. Eventually he will suggest 200 pesos. You reluctantly agree. Case closed.*
*Occasionally you will get a really nasty cop who yells, acts angry and generally tries to intimidate you. This is just an act. Keep smiling, and remember, virtually everything the cop has done, starting with pulling you over for no reason, is illegal.