As many of you may have expected, the formerly Soviet countries have something of a problem with corrupt police officers seeking a bribe. It’s like a fun game they play. Devilishly handsome and charming as I am, I narrowly managed to avoid such horrid ordeals throughout much of my travels in this part of the world, expertly parrying such requests with flawlessly calculated linguistic acrobatics the likes of would prompt Shakespeare to take a vow of silence and never compose works of the written word ever again.
Translation: I was too stupid to know what the cop was asking. They don’t teach you “bribe” in first year Russian. Perhaps exactly for this reason.
So it was in Moldova that the final chapter of my ex-Soviet adventures were spent, and eagerly did I anticipate escaping the clutches of police officer corruption by delving into the only-somewhat-corrupt arms of Romanian law enforcement officials, who would at the very least attempt to exude some semblance of professionalism due to their (at the time) extremely recent entry into the European Union. Moldova was my last Soviet stop before being home free.
And they literally hide in the dark to jump out at you to do a passport check.
And so, it was a dark and not-so-stormy night in Moldova as I made my way back to the hostel with an impromptu Australian buddy after a night at the bars whereupon we sampled the Moldovan shenanigans that characterize a typical evening of barhopping-related entertainment in Chisinau. It’s actually a pretty cool bar scene out there. They stop the music here and there to do organized events, like dance contests and prize giveaways and stuff. I don’t know. I only took first year Russian. Shush.
So as we drunkenly made our way back to bed, we had to cross a major intersection, one segment of which was blocked off, so you could only cross from one side. And that’s exactly where they hide. Amongst the darkness of the trees they wait, not unlike a snake hiding amongst the grass, poised and ready to strike its hapless prey.
And two Moldovan cops leaped out of the bushes. Thus did our Moldovan police officer encounter begin.
Luckily for me, having learned the first time that you need absolutely everything on you at all times (passport, visa, registration, and a certificate of ownership of your soul), I had all my papers with me like the adorable little law-abiding citizen I so often claim to be.
Photocopies, though. A cop can’t confiscate a photocopy and hold it for ransom expecting a bribe to give it back. HA!
“Here you go.”
“You speak Russian?”
“Yeah, a little.”
“How is it?”
“It’s not bad.”
“Where’d you learn Russian?”
And thus a conversation was born.
It was pretty obvious after a brief moment that all the papers were in order, and we answered all the questions about where we had been, where we were staying, for how long, why we were there, where we were visiting, and after running out of official questions, we just kept on talking.
At 2am. About what we were doing in Moldova. Like, the kind of conversation you’d have in a hostel.
The cops actually started recommending places to go, fun things to see, interesting things to do, and all sorts of things like that. We had a half-hour talk, right there on the sidewalk, at 2am, about why we chose to visit Moldova, what life was like in the United States, where else we had visited, whether we were enjoying our visit, and what we thought about Moldova.
We mentioned that we were thinking of visiting a winery, since Moldova is pretty famous for its wines, and they started recommending which wines we should try, and asked if we had sampled any so far. I mentioned I usually drink vodka, and one of the cops proceeded to tell me exactly which brand of vodka I should try while I was there. Fun fact: He was totally right.
So this went on long enough that the Aussie guy had actually gone to sit down on a bench, since he couldn’t speak a word of Russian and couldn’t participate in the conversation. But it came time to say our goodbyes. We shook hands (we were even on a first-name basis by now), and mentioned it had been great talking to them. And it was. It was one of those great talks that only happens once in a while, when you can meet someone from the country you’re visiting and learn all sorts of things you’d never even think to ask. Plus, vodka recommendations!
Fortune smiled upon us that evening. We turned around and went on our way, serendipitous encounters having elated our spirits.
“You were just at the bars, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“…why didn’t you bring a girl back home with you?”
I laughed. It was an excellent burn. A random Moldovan police officer stopped me to do a passport check and asked me why I had failed to seduce a lady. You got me, officer. You got me good.
But you know what? He was right. Why didn’t I bring a girl home with me?
Well done, night shift Moldovan police officer. Well done indeed.