How to Deal With the Cops

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Я взяток не даю: I don't give bribes

Ever since the invasion of British football fans on Moscow -- which was the largest foreign presence in Moscow since Napoleon's troops sacked the city in 1812 -- some jokey pieces have been making the rounds on the Internet. As usual, I can't tell if these are приколы (gags) or правда (truth). The story is that Moscow's finest -- the cops -- produced an English-language guide to help their minions communicate with the fans.

If the guide did exist, it didn't bode well for intercultural communication. Cops were taught to say: Which mobile phone lost you? (Какой мобильный телефон вы потеряли?); Where did you lost her? (Где вы её потеряли?); Where is he live? (Где он живёт?). My personal favorite was: What was the number of your credit card? (Какой был номер у вашей кредитной карты?) This should have been followed by: "Please to give PIN number" and "I send to you postcard from Ibiza."

True or not, it got me thinking about writing a truly useful guide for communicating in Russian with various members of law enforcement and tax agencies. Here's the start of "Communicating with Russian Officialdom: The Gonzo Guide."

With traffic cops:

Выпил? Да вы что?! Ни капельки! (Was I drinking? Are you kidding? I didn't have a drop!)

Но ведь все остальные ездят по тротуару (But everyone else drives on the sidewalk).

Что значит "Приняли ночью новые правила"? (What do you mean "New rules were just ratified last night"?)

Я взяток не даю (I don't give bribes).

With beat cops:

Да, знаю, что это не похоже на регистрацию, но они только этот талончик и дают (Yes, I know it doesn't look like registration, but this receipt is all they give).

Какой Ереван?! Я американец итальянского происхождения! (What do you mean -- Yerevan? I'm an Italian-American!)

Нет, осматривать мою сумку в вашей машине не позволю (No, I won't let you take my purse into your car for inspection).

Откуда я знаю, какие штампы и подписи положены? (How would I know what stamps and signatures are required?)

Я взяток не даю (I don't give bribes).

With the tax inspectorate:

Конечно, я ездил в Ухту в командировку. Для чего ещё туда можно ездить? (Of course I went to Ukhta on a business trip. Why else would anyone go there?)

Все документы с 1992 года?! Да вы с ума сошли! (All documents since 1992? Are you nuts?)

Недоплата налогов на сумму шесть миллиардов долларов? Как это может быть, если ежегодный оборот -- три миллиона? (Back taxes of $6 billion? How could that be when our annual turnover is $3 million?)

В налоговом кодексе нет такого требования! (The Tax Code doesn't have that requirement!)

Я взяток не даю (I don't give bribes).

At passport control:

Да, поправилась. Ну и что? (Yes, I've put on some weight. Your point?)

Сдала регистрационный талон как положено (I handed in my registration receipt as required).

Почему я должна отвечать за сбой вашей системы общения с ОВИРом? (Why am I responsible for a breakdown in your system of communication with the registration service?)

Я взяток не даю (I don't give bribes).

At customs:

Это не картина Гончаровой. Это рисунок пятилетней дочери моих друзей (It's not a painting by Goncharova. It's a drawing by my friends' 5-year-old daughter).

Но 4 миллиона в турецких лирах -- это всего три доллара! (But 4 million Turkish lira is just $3!)

Я взяток не даю (I don't give bribes).

If all else fails, say: Я хочу позвонить в своё консульство (I want to call my consulate).

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.