“Dame mi multa, por favor.” (Please give me my ticket.)
In the world of occasionally Kafkaesque road-side Mexican police stops, these thoughts are offered as a reminders of what’s really important in life: remain calm, cool, & collected, and it will all work out.
“Dame mi multa, por favor.“** is one of several dandy phrases to use when driving in México. If you drive a rental vehicle or one with out-of-state plates or even worse: a vehicle with US/Canadian plates, you’ll eventually be pulled-over and scolded about some ethereal infraction. After you and your officer exchange personal stories about what actually happened, then comes The Request, followed by a pregnant pause. Duck and dive as much as you like, experienced officers will stay their course and refuse to return your license, leading to The Standoff: as he waits for you to surrender some dinero and you stubbornly maintain your Principals (Hier stehe ich, Ich kann nicht anders! …)
Depending on how you value effectivo and whether you pity the poor officer (some really are incredibly poor), you really may be left at a stalemate. Whining, crying, & pleading are mostly non-viable options at this point. Getting out of the car gives the officer an option to arrest you (yet another tale about your Constitutional Right to hide in your house or car), so, how does a savvy traveler negotiate their way out of such sticky situations – without either party losing face? (Saving face can be a particularly huge thing in México – yet another article).
“Dame mi multa, por favor.” (“Please give me my ticket.”) can work wonders. “Multa” is a marvelous word that literally means “fine”/penalty in formal Spanish, but in México politely requesting mi multa means you want an official hard-copy of a ticket before you hand over a single centavo. You could say “boleto”, but that seems to show that you truly are a gringo, ready for shearing.
“Dame mi multa, por favor.” instead, is a gentle shibboleth that shows you are neither challenging nor threatening the officer, (like demanding his badge number), and it still leaves you three more raises in the game:
… First, call their bluff:
… (use a very polite, but firm formal tone … not aggressive)
“Dame mi multa, por favor.” (Please give me my ticket.)
… If that does not end the negotiation, then go to your First Raise:
Ask for their badge number and name …
“Quiero tu nombre y numero … por favor.”
and get out your pen and paper to write it down.
… maybe consider taking their picture.
This works well in some areas of the country, like the Sur Este, but in other areas (like where the Narco Traficantes control things) taking their foto may not be a good choice. Here in Yucatan, our officers have good overall relations with the public, and they GET FIRED IMMEDIATELY for soliciting bribes. … Also: If your State has a hotline for corruption, consider asking the officer if the anti-mordida line ( *63 ?) is working.
… Second Raise:
“I want to talk with your Captain/manager.”
“Me gustaria hablar con tu jefe.”
… Then, if needed, the Third Raise:
“Please take me to the station.”
“Por favor, lleveme a la estación de Policia.”
Gently but firmly raising the stakes, stepwise, and calling bluffs, lets the officer give in (and give you a scolding) at any point, without the officer losing face.
You know it’s all good when the officer starts his one last scolding & warnings for you to do better next time….
This allows him to walk away partly satisfied that he is still in control ; … and relieved that he didn’t have to be humiliated or knuckle under to some vituperative, over-the-top, rabid, blustering gringo.
You can leave the scene knowing that sometimes the little things are what’s most important in life.
By gently escalating things only very slowly, most officers back down, because they do not want to have to spend a lot of time filling out the paperwork at the station and later trying to prove their case.
Reason for this blog?: Things can work well here, but we have to take the sticks from our ears, keep our eyes open, and sometimes keep our mouths shut to watch and learn how things work here. There is a little validity to touristic impressions of highly-caricaturized images of sleepy sombrero-wearing peones with their favorite burro, corrupt cops, overbearing sacerdotes, burritos, the simple-but-ubiquitous adoration de Nuestra Señora (de Guadalupe), mariachis, etc. , but if you take a chance, learn some Maya language or Nahuatl, and scratch the surface, you’ll find Mexico is an incredibly diverse, wildly varying melange of over 220 languages and 1,000’s of sub-cultures held together by some beautiful common values, with a great taste for food, black or subtle humor, and slowly unraveling family values.
*This foto is actually about as far as one can get from our sometimes Kafkaesque road-side Mexican police stops and is offered as a reminder of what’s really important in life. The foto: My brother David Swallow is on the left, “officiating” for Maria Alba’s and my wedding. It doesn’t get much more real than separate bride & groom purification lodges, followed by commitments made with a Chanunpa before family, friends, and the Kolas, ending with an excellent feast with friends’ home-cooking from around the globe – giving the reader a glimpse of whom we are.
**”Dame mi recibo, por favor.” can work equally as well, but “multa” offers insider’s leverage. And yes, be prepared to require a receipt. Yucatán and Mérida have been cracking-down on such practices by la Policia y Govt. officials, (by firing them), but we all have to leave YucaLandia at some point.
(Hint: Q. Roo is notorious for shaking-down even their most experienced guests.)
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Disclaimer: This information is not meant as legal advice. It is for educational and informational purposes only. Government policies vary between States and offices, and Mexican Government officials have broad discretion in how they individually enforce policies, so, your personal experiences may vary. See a professional for advice on important issues.
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Feel free to copy while giving proper attribution: YucaLandia/Surviving Yucatan.
© Steven M. Fry
Read-on MacDuff . . .
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“yet another tale about your Constitutional Right to hide in your house or car”
Do you really have the right to stay in your vehicle at a reten? If they keep insisting do you just say I will follow you to the police station?
That is my best understanding.
Remember that local police here have almost no training and very little education, and do not know the law, so they might insist on things that are not required by the law. This is why we recommend keeping Spanish copies of the 2 (or 3 for recent TIPs) documents in your car. You can avoid hassles by allowing them to read the actual law & rules.
I always used to read post in news papers but now as I am a user of net therefore from
now I am using net for articles or reviews, thanks to
I just got fleeced last week to the tune of $1500MX in Playa del Carmen. The cop claimed I ran a red light (which I didn’t). I was very polite, told him I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Because this was my first time getting pulled over in Mexico I guess I panicked and coughed up the fine on the spot. Next time I will do things VERY differently. It was an expensive lesson to learn.
so very true. The Q.Roo Costa Maya police have a 3 decade-long reputation for pulling tricks to try to fleece foreigners and Mexicans out of $$ on bogus charges. We’ve “not” paid any of the times we have been stopped since 1985. Unfortunately, PEMEX gas stations in Q.Roo’s Costa Maya area also play lots of tricks.
Thanks for the good warning/advice to others.
On our travels from the U.S. to the Yucatan, we were held several minutes by Campeche Police at the border. I kept saying I could not speak Spanish well. He kept repeating the “same” phase in Spanish. I understood enough to realize he wanted $300 pesos each for our 3 perros not being in cages. We had been on the road 5 days and stopped at each border. I must admit we were ALWAYS treated kindly and with respect…except at the Campeche border. By this time, I was tired of the doggies, the husband and the whole trip. As the officer continued to hold us, I finally said, “Un momento por favor … déjame llamar a mi abogado para traducir” (in my broken Spanish). But he understood enough. “One moment please, let me have my attorney translate,” as I reached for my phone and actually called him. The officer found a very quick response to mine, “No problem senora. You are okay this time. You can go.” And yes, he responded in English.
I really appreciate you going to the effort of discouraging that officer.
In the past I have simply asked “where can I pay the fine” and insist “I need a receipt for my business taxes”. The proper response by the officer would be “follow me to the station”… be willing to do that.
If the officer feels it is too much trouble (or he has stepped over the line) he will make an excuse and say never mind or give a firm warning.
Please be smart and do not encourage wrong doing… being lazy and offering a Bribe is just plain Wrong!
My partner and I are leaving Pennsylvania in early January, 2015 and making the trek to Yucatan’ via Nuevo Laredo. We drove last year- stayed November to April- and didn’t have any troubles until we were leaving Mexico in April. We were stopped one mile from the border in NL and told we were speeding. We weren’t. Phil handed over the equivalent of $160 USD. I’ll practice these phrases. With luck we won’t need them, but I’ll be more prepared this trip.
Steve, the video you posted- of the road trip through Mexico in 1935- made me tear up as I watched. It is a Mexico we will never know.
I have been following the news of the student massacre in Iguala, the recent shoot outs between the rival anti- cartel vigilante’ groups in Michoacan, and the on- going cartel violence throughout the country. (fueled by cocaine demand NOB )
I am nervous about our drive although I read, and agree with, your statistics about crime in the US vs Mexico. I guess I have to just feel the fear and do it anyway.
We are in the process of building a house in a village about an hour from Merida so learning some Mayan phrases- in addition to learning Spanish, is essential. My Mayan friends in the village think it is a hoot when I try to speak Maya… and I keep on trying!
Your site is a source of real, factual information and I am grateful for it.
The photo of your wedding is great! Congratulations, Steve and thank you.
Did you read our articles on basic Maya – on the Yucatan Living website.
It really does crack-up Maya when we try.
Mayan Language for Beginners, Part 3
All the best for safe travels!
Yes! I sure did.
I read them, I downloaded and printed them, I made flash cards of the words and phrases, and am practicing them…along with my nursery school level Spanish.
I’ve watched some Youtube videos, too.
I am ready!!
Look out, Yucatan’!
Thank you for your wishes for our safe travel.
If I can simply “live in the moment” I will be just fine.
Loved this post. Well written and appreciate Kai’s comments too. Kai hope your drive down went well – we’re making the same trip in the next couple weeks. (We’ll be in Izamal – maybe we’ll run into you?)
Can you tell me how I can get a copy both in Spanish and English stating ONLY Aduana can take or impound a vehicle. Thank you
Sorry, we can’t offer anything on this, because there is no such rule.
Expats have made this mistaken claim for years on various web-forums, because it sounds so goood, and seems so reassuring (making it believable) … but it’s simply not true.
If you get in an accident, any police department can impound your vehicle.
Federal police can impound vehicles on the Federal highways for a variety of violations.
Wish I could help, but the Ley Aduanera and SAT Manuals do NOT have the impound restrictions that some foreigners have claimed,
Is it somehow strategic to address the police officer as tú (dame mi multa, tu nombre, tu jefe, etc) instead of the more formal usted (déme mi multa, su nombre, su jefe, etc)?
I would stick with usted in addressing them,
… but my Yucatecan wife uses Dame mi multa…
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My husband and I were just in Cancun. 5-25-2018. We have rented a car on a previous trip with no problem what so ever. We watch the speed limits and all laws. However this last time we were searching for a restaurant,(that did not actually exist). We turned a corner to see police lights come up behind us. I’m america you pull over when lightscome up hind you in order to let them go by unobstructed. Much to our surprise they pulled in behind us. The police officer came up to my husband who was driving. Asked fir his license and told him to come with him back to the police car. My husband did. My husband sat in the police passenger seat next to the officer while the officer brought a book speaking to him in Spanish in what seemed like he was showing him a bunch of laws and rules from the book. He told my husband he was speeding. Meanwhile I’m taking off my seatbelt turning around to de what is going on. I noticed a second police standing on the sidewalk. So I start videoing him because I cannot see where my husband is. The officer in the car says something over his loud speaker. Then the officer that is standing on the sidewalk comes to my window and starts telling me he will take me to jail for taking his picture. He says to be cal let the men talk and all will be fine. In a few min my husband comes to talk to me. Asked me for money. He only had 10 pesos in his wallet. I had $21, in my purse . I have it to him . He went back to the police car offered it to the police who had originally demanded 3k pesos. Police said it was not enough . He refused to give my husband his license back. When my husband said it was all we had we were at the end of our trip the officer agreed to take the money. Heals out his hand to shake and called my husband his friend and Gabe his license back. We were free to go.
The Cancun police have a long reputation for this kind of crummy behavior, so very different from our really friendly & helpful police in Yucatan & Merida.
Your sort of problem is exactly why we just published the little article on how to deal with this:
Quintana Roo Tourist’s First 2 Minor Traffic Offenses are “On the House”
Carry a copy of the Q.Roo Rules of the Road page about this issue, next time, to show them:
“Sorry guys, no mordida today.“
The same trick is used all around Mexico. Yesterday we learned our lesson for $5000 in the Mexico City, just 10 minutes after we have started our journey. I hope we will not have to deal with that again, because we expect another two weeks on the road, but thanks for the tips how to behave in such a situation.