Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I may well be a little paranoid…

..but the Polish cops really are out to get me!

This week I have been stopped three times by the law – and twice within ten minutes! Are we living in a police state?

On my way home from work, near the junction of Pulawska and Odynsa, I regularly see a man, about fifty years old and looking a little grizzled, riding his bicycle, one hand on the handle bars and the other holding on to a cigarette.

He wobbles along the pavement, puffing away and making comments about life, love and Hegelian philosophy to passers by and the flower lady on the corner.

He’s amazing. But I wonder how many laws, by-laws he’s breaking? Certainly, looking grizzled in public is one. But there must be something in the statute books against bike smoking? And if there isn’t then I am sure Brussels can knock one up for us.

Cops though don’t seem to think he’s worth bothering about.

So why do they keep on harassing me?

I was a bit late to meet with a friend who had to do a ‘bar review’ for a magazine. I was to help him with the ‘review’.

I know, tough work but somebody (me, me!) has got to do it. And yes, working conditions are tough and we are going to form a new branch of the Solidarity trade union – Bar Review Chapter - to fight for pay and conditions.

Anyway, I’m standing at the traffic crossing and the little red man has just lit up (no, not a cigarette) and I’m hesitating whether to walk out in front of the tram - hoping it won’t start moving and turn me into spaghetti bolognaise – or wait for the little green man to wink into life.

As I dithered, an old man of about 70 years old hobbled off the pavement and started making his way across the tram rail. Then, to my right, a girl of about 11 calmly walked to the other side. Not wanting to be left behind by the aged and prepubescent children I walked across the tram rail, then the road and over to the other side of Plac Bankowy.

Just then I heard the dreaded “Prosze, Pana!(Excuse me, sir)

It was the cops. I was going to be harassed for jaywalking.

If it’s true that you know when you are getting old when the cops start looking young, then I must be nearing my old age pension. The cop who was now asking for my ID (which, of course, I didn’t have) looked the spitting image of a foetus.

I tried to explain to him that ‘there is no such anti-jaywalking law in the UK, so I just can’t get used to being controlled as to how I cross the street.' And anyway, I was only doing what that ‘old geezer over there was doing’, pointing at the 70 year old, thereby shamelessly trying to distract the officer from my case by stitching up the old and infirm.

He seemed genuinely fascinated that there is no jaywalk laws in Britain, and, I think, in genuine gratitude for providing him with such a tasty bit of traffic trivia, let me go.

Twelve hours later and I am in the park with the dog, 8.30 a.m. and I have a hangover of existential proportions from the bar ‘review’ of the night before. The dog, Chagall, is, as usual, frolicking in the snow and doggy muck, and barking at men on their own (he doesn't seem to mind them in twos) wearing dark clothes - he’s much more particular about who he harasses than the cops are.

Just then, from behind a tree, emerges a traffic cop. “Prosze Pana!” Oh, God, here we go again.

This cop is so young he appears to be a contemporary of an embryo.

“Why is the dog not on a leash and why is he not wearing a muzzle?”

I try to explain to him that ‘we don’t have such laws in the UK and I just can’t get used to … ‘

Meanwhile the dog is barking playfully at the policeman, who, to him, is just another man on his own wearing dark clothes.

Apparently, I could be fined 200 zloty ($70) for the heinous crime of letting my dog off his leash to do what comes natural.

After taking my details – mothers name, fathers name, place of birth, place of birth of mother - the cop let me and the dog go, probably fascinated by the fact that we don’t have dog discrimination laws in the UK.

But we were not free for long. Ten minutes later – ten minutes! – two more cops emerged from behind a tree.

“Prosze Pana!”.


They told me to put the dog on the leash. The only problem was, Chagall does not like going back on the leash once he’s let off it, and would not come anywhere near me or the two men in dark clothes.

So for five minutes, watched closely by the cops – these were older, cynical, more senior officers of about 15 years old - I pursued the dog around the park trying to get hold of him. Dog thought this was a great laugh and let me get close, closer and then dart away again barking his head off.

It must have looked like the end bit of Benny Hill with the bald man in the park(though me and the dog have much more hair).

The cops eventually got bored of this, took my name and left.

In the space of 12 hours my name, address, place of birth, father’s and mother’s name, had gone into three different little black books.

I’m a marked man. Maybe I should write to Human Rights Watch, or Kofi Anan. Anyone got his address?


Bicyclemark said...

I think you can just write on an evelope... 1 UN plaza, NY NY and write Kofi's name on it.. it will get to him.

Im curious about repeatedly changing ones details.. personal info. Whenever youre stopped.. change little things, like your mothers name or the date of your birth.

Myself if Im stopped.. Im always a tourist and I always am visiting a friend for a week.

sonia said...

Last time I was in Poland (24 years ago) the policemen weren't saying “Prosze Pana!” ("I am asking you, Sir!"), but "Obywatelu!" ("Citizen!"). They were quite scary, even to Westerners...

benavar said...

Totaly agree with you... can not stop smiling reading your post.

When I can, I use the same tric as Bicyclemark : "euh excusez moi mais je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites, pardon ? ecoutez je suis presse, c'est tres gentil de votre part de s'occuper des touristes mais je ne comprends. Vous parlez francais ? non ? Au revoir"

Last time it was very funny. I was almost to get fined (I didn't wait from the green litle man...). The cops reached the central ID center... which never answer after 25 min (really)to their question "Karta pobytu Obywatela UE numer OE0012445 prosze zeby kontrolowac"... They let me go.

Last point : there is always one guy speacking. One other writing (and not saying anything). If you have any information of what he is writing, could you please give us. It is amazing for me such writer among the police. And sometimes - it was the case for instance last time, he has been writing i don't know what for 25 min (for pedestrian infraction...)

- excuse my french -

roman said...

This does sound very much like an Orwellian nightmare. Big Brother is alive and well. Hopefully, these cops were just making their quota of "reports" that their supervisor demanded. This way, he can be assured that they, in fact, are awake during their shift. I would not take it personaly, YET. By jaywalking and having your pet running around loose, you were, technically, breaking the law and giving these "inspired" and zealous
constables what they needed.
I am sure that because of these actions there will be one less jaywalker and loose dog running amock in the city tommorow.
Observation: Judging by the previous comments, why is it necessary to "evade" the law by giving false or misleading information? I can understand it when the infraction is in one's judgement unworthy of a report but to consistently foil attempts at gathering information, is just odd to my sensibilities. If a more serious crime happens to occur at about the same time and place, the investigators rely on just these types of reports to solve their crime by seeking detailed information from these "reports".(descriptions/observations). So you see, by people not wanting to be hassled, we are contributing to lawlessness by our refusal to meet our obligations. Does our obligation to community safety end with our tax payment?
Excuse the little rant.. had to get it out.
Czecs :)

michael farris said...

I've only been stopped twice. Once for walking around a construction site on the road side (rather than the ridiculously long foot detour).
The cops were more or less polite but spoke as if to a 12 year old.
"You wanna get hit by a car?"
"Oh I'm very careful."
"But you could get hit by a car." Finally one said, "Okay, 100 zloties"
"Good one guys" I answered and walked away. (Giving them plenty of time to stop me if they wanted).

Another time was kind of dumb (maybe a month ago) for crossing against the light (I didn't notice them until I was halfway across the road) and they just said I shouldn't do that and I agreed and that was that.

I trust my verbal skills to get out of trouble rather than the "I'm a poor, dumb little tourist" routine. You're making yourself vulnerable to made up fines and if they find out you're lying (possibly not that difficult) things could get unpleasant.

beatroot said...

The cops do have a quota to fill everyday and that's why they make these ridiculous hassles for people.

Amd jaywalking laws are silly and I will never get used to them.

But the best way to treat cops in general and the ever younger Polish cops in particular, is never challenge their authority and always make them feel important. They do a very boring job most of the time, get very little money (that's why they love a bribe) and the only perk is the power that they have. So let them enjoy that and they won't get nasty.

Anonymous said...

the simple thing is why know have a basic idea of the common-sense laws in Poland and follow them. The point is NOT to stick out like a sore thumb.

Why don't you put your dog on a leash?
Heaven help you if you have to live in New York City - you better have the plastic bag if your dog takes a dump.

Instead of playing the part of the stupid foreigner, how about being a savvy and sophisticated Englishmen who is well versed in the ways of Warsaw and in Polish.

It's a lot easier to talk your way out if you're polite rather than being a smart-ass.

And yes, I've been to Poland and Warsaw quite a bit, half my family is there, so don't try and say "you're just ignorant of the situation".

beatroot said...

You're just ignorant of the situation...

But seriously folks...I am not playing the 'stupid foreigner' when I tell them that we do not have laws like that where I come from. I do it to cause cognitive disonnace in the young coppers, who seem completly thrown by the fact that other countries have other ways of doing things. They always seem suprised when I tell them stuff lkke that while helping them to change their dappers. "Just a little bit more nappy rash cream..'

And I am not putting my dog on a leash. Sorry, but dongs are not born to walk around parks, they are, like Bruce Sprinsteen, born to run...

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly annoying foreigner! We all dream about good observance of law in this country and you spoil everything by behaving like a naughty little boy who says "I'm not going to obey anything". If that's not stupidity, then what is?

beatroot said...

I don't know if you have noticed when strolling through the park that many many dogs are not on a leesh. Poles ignore those do I.


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