With GAI, Politeness Can Go a Long Way

Several years ago, when many international businesses first began operations in Russia, foreign drivers were a real gold mine for the traffic police, or GAI. Many foreigners paid fines directly to officers -- in hard currency.

Then the first generation of "New Russians" attracted the attention of the GAI, because they had "crazy money" and were throwing $100 bills around like they were nothing. But within a few years most of them had traded their limousines for jail cells, leaving the road to real New Russian businessmen with real money. In response, the traffic police went back to targeting average people.

If you happen to be one of these drivers, it is important to remember that the way you speak with GAI officers can mean the difference between keeping your money or paying it out in fines.

A friend of mine who has been with the GAI more than ten years tells me that a lot of foreign drivers use the wrong approach when they are stopped by an officer: confrontation.

Using often very poor Russian, they try to tell the officer that he has no right to confiscate their driving license, that the officer is asking for a big headache from their embassy, that the traffic situation in Moscow is terrible compared to their home country, etc. Such people start to take down the officer's badge number and promise to send letters of complaint to his superiors.

This is definitely the wrong approach. If challenged, the officer may decide to check the car -- I mean its technical condition -- more carefully than usual, and I can assure you that he will find something that will justify a fine. You end up with the headache, not the officer.

The best way for foreign drivers to talk to the GAI is to agree with the officer that you are guilty, but ...

But you just arrived from your country and this is your first (or second) experience driving in Moscow but not with a personal driver because your boss told that there isn't enough money for a personal driver and traffic in Moscow is really crazy and it is very difficult to get around but in your country the traffic jams are even worse.

It is also good to ask the officer what is the best way to drive through the downtown area, for example. Or, if you have a pen with your firm's logo on it, offer it to him to use in writing out his next report.

If you can remember these tips, you might save a lot of money.