Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Madrid blog--Marc and The Guardia Civil
My husband has a known tendency to voice his opinions, without consideration for tact, preferably when this will incur negative reprisals, but this time he outdid himself. Marc had a run in with the Guardia Civil--Spain's federal paramilitary police. Although there's no US equivalent, Marc's experience would be familiar to any American who has driven through a rural county (as a non-local) and come upon the local state trooper welcoming committee.
The incident was banal enough. Marc got stopped for driving without his headlights on in the fog. Only, instead of taking down his name and address and sending him the bill, which is the normal procedure. The Guardia demanded cash, offering him a discount for “on the spot payment.” Since Marc was in the middle of nowhere, this entailed a drive to the nearest ATM machine in a village some kilometers away. The machine did not, however, dispense the exact change for the 105 euro fine. When he came back with the money, the Guardia told him they did not have change, and that he would have to drive back to the village and change his bill at a store. At this point, my husband lost patience, and decided that he’d rather give up 15 euros than waste any more time. He called the Guardia a “payaso” (clown) and handed over the 120 euros saying: “propina” (tip).
The predictable happened. My husband was handcuffed and driven to the "cuartel" (headquarters), met with the sergeant who eventually released Marc, writing up a citation for “insult to authority”--resulting in Marc’s court appearance today.
It turns out, poor as Marc’s judgment was, he wasn’t far off the mark. When the Guardia write up an official citation, resulting in a bill that you get in the mail, this money goes straight to “El Tesoro” the Treasury. However, your more enterprising Guardia can insist on cash and conveniently forget to mail in the official citation. Foreigners represent a convenient target for this income-enhancement operation. Due to the difficulty of collecting payment, they can insist on cash. However, by, denouncing my husband’s disrespect for authority, and sending a notice to Marc’s Madrid address, for his court date, the Guardia had to give up the cash and send it to “El Tesoro.” At the same time they opened themselves up for a parallel denunciation for improper protocol, since my husband is a legal resident of Spain. At what price honor?
In the end, Marc had to pay a 60 euro fine for “disrespect for authority,” which his lawyer argued down to 30 euros “due to his client’s unemployment.”
This was a lot better than my mother-in-law’s dismal prediction:
Mamita: “I don’t deserve such stress in my advanced years.”
Marc: “What are talking about?”
Mamita: “You’ll get AIDs.”
Marc: “How exactly is that going to come about?”
Mamita: They’ll throw you into jail. “Te van a dar por culo” (some "Deliverance" imagery), and you’ll wind up with AIDs!”
The moral is, if you legally reside in Spain and are the victim of one of these shake-down operations, insist on your right to mail in your fine and threaten to denounce them for improper procedure. Otherwise, regardless of where you are in the world, probably not a smart idea to insult a man with a little wee-wee, when that man is called “Authori-ta,” packs a gun, wears a uniform and you’re a foreigner.