I have always known that the police (and many other civil workers) take rosvet (roshvet) or bribes, but I have never seen it done. I knew that traffic police in particular take bribes, but I didn’t know how much the going rate was. Today I experienced it for myself and it was actually kind of fun.
I had just dropped a friend off and was going along a road I had only gone along once before, so I was driving by the seat of my pants. I went through a red light on a curve, which I rarely do, but I thought “Burasi Turkiye” (this is Turkey-with a shrug) and kept going. As I was going up the cobblestone hill a motorcycle passed me, but I didn’t think much of it. Then I noticed it was two “sahin” (shahin—traffic police), who were gesturing, but I still didn’t pay them much attention—until they pulled up beside me and waved me over. Gulp. The one in front very severely told me (in Turkish, of course) that I had gone through a red light and it was very serious and they were going to write me a ticket. I went into the “not much Turkish” routine, but it was enough to allow me to mostly understand. He informed me that the ticket was 40+million (about $30). Huh? Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t see it, etc. This was the first time in my life I ever did it, etc. He asked how much he should write it for, and I said 20 million. He laughed. Then he asked for my papers and my license (from Oregon). Around then I casually asked if he knew my friend Ali C. This is the sahin I went out with for a while a few years back. It turned out that they both knew him. Hmm, that put a different slant on it. The first cop backed up the motorcycle and said he was going to make a phone call. I didn’t look to see if he really did, actually, but soon he was back. How did I know Ali? Oh, he is the friend of my friend’s husband, they are both from Gaziantep. So, obviously I really did know Ali. It was better not to say he was my boyfriend. The cop pulled out his pad to write the ticket and said he wanted 20 million. I pulled it out with a poor me attitude, and he said (freely translated), “Oh, OK, give me 10 million.” Then he asked if I wanted anything from him. Later I wondered if he was offering himself, but I just said, no, thank you very much, and drove off.
So, now I know how to give rosvet. It is sort of like bargaining for a carpet or for something else. There is a level at which the bargaining goes on where it is not quite overt. It is an “I’ll give you this, you give me that” situation that has a politeness and ritual to it. Having connections—those six degrees of separation—oils the gears, talking around it sometimes keeps it going. Being direct and to the point right away, if ever, does not work because it is not the way this game is played. I never asked the policeman directly if he took rosvet—that would be insulting. I had to assume that he would and give him the opportunity to allow it to happen. Knowing Ali was certainly an asset, though. Funny!
Of course there is the ethical issue surrounding giving bribes. A friend got a speeding ticket near Samsun during the holiday, and didn’t play the rosvet game. He told the guy to go ahead and write him a ticket, which turned out to be 40 million. I think he either disapproves of giving rosvet or isn’t good at it. I know the police don’t make much money (the equivalent of about $300/month when I knew Ali) and if I can pay less on a ticket, I don’t mind. I know sometimes they stop people for no reason and ask for money, but not in my case. It’s good to know they also do their job! Occasionally. At any rate, it is part of the system and on this level it is ok with me. Giving someone big bucks to let them avoid prison for a big crime, or something like that is another matter. This is the equivalent of a white lie (yes, you look great in that), as far as I am concerned. The coolest thing is that I was able to do it on my own and it worked out fine. Another story for my repertoire, at any rate.
Several people I know don’t like the bargaining ritual, partly because they are not good at it. You have to tune into the other person and often culture gets in the way of that. If the personalities don’t match, it won’t work well. And if you don’t try it out and practice it, it won’t work well either. I feel that I have had lots of practice the last few years and I am getting better at it. I am more comfortable with it and know better how to do it. This experience with the sahin reinforced that.