(translation: Shraf)

Spend enough time in Russia or the former Soviet republics and you will come across the ‘shraf’….

Drive a vehicle and you will come across it with the first 24 hours and continue to experience it at regular intervals.

Technically shraf means ‘penalty’ but in the vernacular of the local police it basically means; ‘my wife likes expensive clothes’ or ‘I’m putting my daughter through beautician’s school’……

….think Bribe.

After the first shraf way back in the frozen wilds of Karelia, and after some sage advice from my Moscow 4×4 friends I have toughened my stance on this malarkey.

I now realised that like the advice you always hear about animals and snakes in the wild…that “they are more scared of you than you are of them” applies…

As a foreigner they don’t want to write you a ticket or take your licence as the law dictates…it causes them all sorts of paperwork problems and means they have to write a report to their regional commander.

Neither do they want to cause a diplomatic incident (the common Russian aversion to interacting with foreigners on any official level).

So with this invaluable background knowledge I now realise they have minimal leverage over me unless  I really do something serious like run over a pedestrian!

Now when I am stopped by a cop or at a checkpoint I simply smile, shrug my shoulders and say I have no money…only a credit card but I am willing to pay….please write me a ticket (on whatever trumped up charge they are claiming)

Obviously they just want the cash…..so depending on the demeanour of the officer (as some are seriously being assholes and others are just smiling while they try it on with Johnny Foreigner) after maybe 3 minutes of the ‘negotiations’ for cash going nowhere, I ask “maybe I could give them a small gift instead?”

If they smoke I give them a cheap Cuban cigar in a tube which I have brought with me otherwise I have some hip flasks of cognac which are always appreciated!…at a £5 each its better than the 50euro shraf that they usually demand!

Some prime examples:

The police officer who, when he found out I had just crossed the border on a Sunday and thus I had no cash, saw the kayak, and asked if I was a fisherman (as he was), and noted that he would accept a fishing rod in lieu of cash!…a hip flask for him.

The asshole cop who stopped me, breathalysed me, claimed I was intoxicated, and proceeded to demand 200euro! Those who know me; (that I rarely drink, especially at 9am, and would never drink and drive anyway) will appreciate that this prick rubbed me the wrong way. He was a particularly greedy, nasty piece of work. After a heated exchange in the police car where I demanded he write me a ticket, he accepted a box of cigars.

Or the cop who stopped me on a main city thoroughfare and said I had broken the ‘protocol’ and that I had to pay ‘shraf’…he drew the $ symbol on his  writing pad….I asked “what protocol?…(I was driving in traffic with other cars at 4 o’clock in the afternoon!)…...”Why shraf?…What protocol?”…. I was told I cannot drive on the street…after some laughter and hand signals I came to understand it was because I was a foreigner!….I awarded 2 Cuban cigars for this brazen attempt!

Most are good humoured about it….you almost feel sorry for them sometimes….cold and alone at  a checkpoint in the middle of the night…..they look the truck over intently, thoroughly scrutinise my documents (which in English,  they can’t possibly read)….then say discretely ….”Adam John…do you have some?”…whilst they make the universal finger rubbing sign for money and usually smiling somewhat sheepishly.

They are more than happy with my small token gift….”

“I have no roubles, no money…..but can I give you a present,  something special from Britannia?”..

Big smiles all round, and I’d be on my way again…..

Shraf…….it not just for Christmas…x


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