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Published: September 29th 2008
In all of my travels in Europe, I have been stopped by the police twice. The first time was in Moscow in the Red Square, when I was standing outside with some friends having a beer and we were ticketed for having an open container in public. The irony of the situation was that everyone in the Red Square (or so it seemed) was drinking beer, and everyone (or so it seemed) was speaking Russian except us. We stuck out like a sore thumb, the police tagged us, and we eventually and reluctantly forked up a small bribe so that they would let us go (I wrote about this experience in an earlier blog entry if u are interested).
My second experience with policemen was in Rouen, France, when we were pulled over because of speeding. It happened that I was driving with Florent, my good friend and housemate, and he knew personally one of the policemen. The policeman had played baseball at one time, and he got a kick out of the fact that I was a baseball player. He let us go.
In all of my time spent in Lithuania I had never been stopped by the police, until recently.
It was my second day back in Kaunas, Viktorija and myself had just returned from our three-month stay in South Africa. We were driving (Viktorija, brother, mother, and I) to Maxima to buy some late-night grocery necessities. For folks who have never been to Lithuania, Maxima is a megastore much like Wal-Mart or Target, but not quite as big and not quite as cheap. In fact prices in Maxima are often relatively expensive if you are buying things like toys or appliances or books. Maximas are often built to have many small shops and restaurants surrounding the main store, kind of like a shopping mall. Well—exactly like a shopping mall, but with a Lithuanian flair. This particular Maxima has an escalator that takes you to a second floor of shops, restaurants, cafes; I like it because from the second floor you can see right down into the grocery store and watch all of the people perusing the aisles. Kind of like the computer game Sim Life or like watching ants in an ant farm.
Finished with our shopping we turned left out of the parking lot; as we passed through a traffic light there was a police car parked on the shoulder and a policeman standing in the street. With his little red circular hand-held stop sign, he was flagging us down and telling us to pull over. I immediately began trying to think what I could have done wrong, and could not imagine what I was being pulled over for. The policeman walks up to the window I roll the window down and give him a friendly ‘Labas Vakaras.’ He asks me why I was pulled over and I say ‘I don’t know.’ He then motions to the Maxima parking lot and says something about making an illegal turn; Viktorija translates that I turned left out of the lot and you are only allowed to turn right. I explained that I did not see the sign, and he motioned for me to come over to his cop car.
Seated in the back of the police car, the officer asks for my license & registration. I give them both to him; he looks over them as he appears to be writing a citation. At one point he stops and asks me for my ‘Personal Code’—I remember that this is a number printed on all European Passports, but is something that we do not have in the US. I tell him that I don’t have a personal code. He asks me where my passport is and I tell him at home. He then asks me who is the owner of the car and I say ‘the woman seated in the passenger seat’, motioning toward our car. He asks for her to come over to chat.
Whenever a situation like this comes up, I always am nervous at first; but once we get to talking, once I calm down a bit, I am no longer nervous and more interested in how things will turn out.
Zenona comes over and sits down in the back seat. She begins apologizing and explaining that I'm a foreigner and that I didn't do this on purpose, that I don't know all of the specific driving rules in Lithuania. As I stand outside of the police car listening to their conversation, I notice that during the 5 minutes we've been standing here three more cars have been pulled over for the same violation. It appears that the sign was not as clear as they thought.
Zenona’s conversation with the police officers continue. They explain to her that they need a ‘Personal Code’ in order to write me a ticket. Zenona tells them to write her the ticket because she is responsible for me, her guest, in Lithuania. They say they cannot do this because she was not driving.
“So what can we do?” she says to them.
Again, they insist on a Personal Code. She says I don’t have one. Finally, becoming impatient, the policeman hands her the license & registration and says “gerai, eik is cia”, which roughly means “ok then, leave from here.”
It is funny to me that I am required by law in Lithuania to carry my drivers’ license but not my Passport. I also find it funny that in order to write me a ticket they need my ‘Personal Code,’ which is something I don't have. So does this mean I can't get a ticket for a traffic violation in Lithuania?
Several weeks later we were driving to the Kaunas Airport to pick up Zenona who was returning from a trip to Dublin, Ireland.
There had been lots of construction since I last visited the airport, including a new terminal, parking lot, and a new traffic pattern. There was now a huge traffic circle where there was once nothing. To spare you the explanation of what exactly resulted in me being pulled over by the police again, I will just say that I was confused.
In my own defense, though, so was everybody else.
As I pulled the car over I thought to myself “just my luck. Getting pulled twice in two weeks.” I grabbed the car registration and headed over to the police car. As I got into the car, I saw another car driving the wrong way on the one-way circle, flailing his hands in the air at other cars as if he was the only one driving the right way and everybody else was in the wrong.
I handed the policeman my registration as I began to look for my license. I pulled out my wallet and fished around, but could not find it. I immediately began to get nervous, my heart was beating faster. Where could it be? What do I say? I swear it was in my wallet, and I never take it out for any reason. I had no other choice but to say “I don’t have my license”. “What? You are driving without a license?” he said, “yes,” I said. I don’t know where it is. I explained that I was stopped earlier and that I had it then but now I don’t have it. It must be at home.
Viktorija walks over to the police car at this point and I explain to her the situation. She stares at me in disbelief. The police ask for my passport and I say it is at home. “Where’s home” he says, “Germany?”
(our conversation is in Lithuanian and I think it is great that he thinks I'm German) “No,” I say, “I’m from the US. But my passport is here in Kaunas.”
Both policemen are at a loss as to what to do. They can’t write me a ticket, I have no identification or drivers’ license, though I say I’m an American and I say I have a drivers’ license. Really their only choice is make me go home and get my passport, or take me to the police station. Their concerned conversation is gradually becoming more light-hearted as they realize the absurdity of the situation. I imagine I was the most interesting case they had had all day.
“So what are you doing in Kaunas?” They ask. “I am a baseball player,” I said. This got from them even more laughs. “What?” they said, as they continued laughing. “Then give us two free tickets to a game and we’ll call it even.”
This was the funniest thing I’d heard all day. Viktorija and I began laughing as we explained to the officers that there are no tickets to the games—that they could just come for free.
“Ok then,” one of them said, “then give us an autographed baseball bat. I’m free on Sunday," said the officer, "so you can just give me a call and I’ll pick it up.” “It’s a deal,” I said. This guy was serious! He gave me his phone number and I saved it in my phone. We bid each other farewell and the police car drove off.
Later, I solved the mystery of my missing drivers’ license. It had been tucked inside my registration documents by the first set of policemen whom had stopped me. So this whole time the cop had my license in his hand, but neither of us knew it. For this reason I decided not to give the cops the baseball bats. Oh—and also because neither I nor the baseball team have any bats to spare. 😉
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