Since arriving in Poland I had noticed how (similar to Barcelona, opposite to Rome) people stand and wait at the lights when crossing the road. Even if there is no traffic from anywhere people will stand.
For the first few days I wouldn’t wait and when people saw me crossing they would start to shuffle around awkwardly, clearly wondering whether to risk a crossing under a red man light.
The red can last for ages here so when there really is no traffic it makes no sense for me to stand there. It did cross my mind however that perhaps these people were so obedient because it was maybe a law that you can’t cross the road unless there’s a green man. But I didn’t give it much thought.
Today however I got caught out. I approached the crossing and there was heavy traffic. So as soon as the traffic stopped dead in front of the crossing I went to the other side.
‘Well done Tom,’ I thought to myself, excellent road cross there. Think for yourself, judge a situation based on probabilities and perceived level of safety, you could be boarding trains and buses without a guide soon.’
I got to the other side and all of a sudden felt a light pat on my shoulder.
‘Oh here we go, some do-good citizen here to wag his finger at me and tell me what I had done was morally wrong’.
No such luck
It was two police officers. One middle aged, shortish, stern looking, the other young, fresh faced, didn’t seem to give a shit, but maintained a professional demeanour none the less.
He started by saying something in Polish.
….I answer ‘I don’t speak polish sorry’
He switches to English.
‘Why you cross road?’ He says, half angrily, whilst the younger officer stands just behind looking indifferent. Now I wouldn’t generally start out being flippant but the way he asked me ‘why’ I crossed the road kind of got me. I knew being cocky and angry would get me nowhere but the question reminded me of when an asshole teacher at school tried to make you feel stupid by asking you why you did something wrong.
Why had I crossed the road? Why did the chicken cross the road? What came first the chicken or the egg? He was really getting me to think about important things here. So I answered, a little bit too angrily
‘The traffic had stopped and it was safe to cross, you can see it’s stopped, look’.
He doesn’t look impressed
‘In Poland you no cross at red light. You pay 100zl, you have cash, I write ticket’.
At this point I had the feeling he was just after some money so I relaxed. 100zl is about £20, and I had no plans to pay him. I thought I may have it in my wallet but I was not getting it out to check or he would know with a bit of pressure I might pay.
‘No I dont’ I answered, staring him straight in the eyes. I made sure to watch his every move to see if he was just a bent cop looking for some cash.
I have no idea where this confidence came from. Usually in these situations I would start to get nervous, heart rate rising beyond a safe level, I’d loose my breath and subsequently loose the ability to speak. It’s happened before when public speaking, and also unfortunately when confronting a racist banker in a London pub. I just can’t speak and have to leave.
So he says to me
‘We go to cash point and you take money’
This was when I started to doubt this chaps integrity. Earlier he had mentioned a ticket. If he gave me a ticket then fine, I would leave Poland before it was due and I don’t really plan to come back. No big deal. And I would be happy to go through this process if it had the officialness of a ticket, as opposed to a march to the cash point.
‘No’. Still staring him down, but without the initial cockiness. ‘I’m not
Going to a cash point with you and taking money out’.
At that point I saw a flicker of nervousness cross his face. His eyes darted to his partner, seemingly crying out for back up. He said something in polish to his partner who, again, didn’t seem to care and gave little response. Time to bring out the threats.
‘If you no pay we take you to prison for 24hrs’.
Ok, I thought, I don’t fancy jail for crossing the road, when it’s a £20 buy out.
But I called his bluff. I stayed silent and continued the death stare. It’s on you policeman, tell me more.
I guess he thought that would work, I didn’t have much of a comeback so I waited. Luckily he continued.
‘We keep you for 24hrs and contact your embassy who pay for you.’
Ok, I thought, sounds like bullshit.
‘Listen if you want a fine, we go to the police station like you say, and you give me a ticket there, I’m not going to the cash point with you’.
At this point he just starts to look bored. His threats haven’t worked, I really hadn’t done much wrong, and his partner wasn’t helping in the slightest.
I saw defeat on his face. He looks once more at my driving lisence and that was it.
‘Ok go, but in Poland we no cross at red light.’
‘Ok I’m sorry’ I replied, half genuine, half just happy I was able to continue with my day
Now mother, if you are angry at this point because teachnically I broke the law and am now seemingly bragging about it, please reconsider.
I believe it is better to think for yourself and make your own rules based on your own morals. I believe if I want to risk my life crossing the road at a red man, that is my right. The fact is that if you are constantly waiting for a green light then you are not even using your brain. The people see the green light and cross, without even looking to see if there is someone coming. What if there was stolen car, fleeing a crime scene, bombarding towards the crossing? How many of those people who waited for the safety net of the green light would get hit?
As for not paying the fine, I would have paid had he taken me to the station, but I would never pay from a cashpoint in to his hands. And I feel I did the right thing. I just happened to get a story out of it which I enjoyed writing, not sure who will enjoy reading it but hey.
Anyway I’m assuming a lot so that’s all. The end