Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Paying the Speeding the ticket

Steve here: Now, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. Those of you that have read this blog and kept in touch with us may already suspect that paying a speeding ticket in Romania (ridiculously big and inefficient government) would not be an easy thing to do. You would be correct...

Bank? C.E.C.? huh?

The officer who gave me the ticket was really nice. He even knew English, or so I thought. When I asked him where to pay the ticket, he said you can pay at any C.E.C (sounds like "check"). Of course, I had no idea what a C.E.C was. He then said "Bank". I said great, sounds simple of enough. Dana and I agreed that on Monday, she would take the ticket to the nearest bank and pay it. Well, on Monday afternoon, I got the phone call from Dana at work. She and Maria went to the bank and after waiting in line for 15 minutes were informed that "Nu" (No) they couldn't pay the ticket there.

After speaking with my Romanian coworkers, they informed me that the C.E.C was a special bank that is similar perhaps to our Federal Credit Union in the States. Ah ha! So we printed out the addresses for the nearest C.E.C's to our apartment. I told Dana I would get the ticket and find the C.E.C after work.

C.E.C. to C.E.C.

I was happy when I figured out that one of the C.E.C's was within walking distance from the apartment. So, I got home at 4pm, got the ticket from Dana and headed out. I found the C.E.C after a short 5 min walk, so I was happy...for the moment. I went in to the C.E.C and got fussed at immediately. Apparently, I didn't shut the door completely and the air conditioning was on. Due to my rudimentary language skills, they had to repeat the command about 3 times (getting louder each time as if that helps me).

After closed the door, I walked back and forth trying to read the language on the different service windows in the C.E.C. None of them said anything about speeding tickets (called "Amenzas" in Romania). I finally asked a nearby non-English speaking Romanian and realized that I couldn't pay the ticket here. Fortunately, a nearby English speaker bailed me out and told me I could pay the ticket at a different C.E.C which was about 1 mile away. So I walked quickly back to the apartment, got my keys, and headed back out. I parked near where I thought this C.E.C was. I was pretty close, and with a little help from a Romanian at the nearby bus stop, I found it. Things were looking up as there was nobody in line there. I asked the lady at the window and she gave me the bad news. It turns out that you don't pay tickets at the C.E.C at all! She then told me to go to this different place which is basically where you pay taxes and fees in my section of the city - and she added that they close early - of course!

So, I hopped back in the car and found what I thought was the building about .5 miles away. I went in and the security guard said I was in the wrong place (of course). He told me the building I needed to find was in the same complex, but about 1 block away. So, after some more walking I finally found the correct building! Unfortunately, I went in the wrong entrance. Another friendly Romanian helped me out and pointed me to the correct entrance. He also gave me the bad news - they were closed for the day.

Doing the right thang...

By this time, I'm starting to wish we had just bribed the cop like most Romanians do. Romanians will usually offer to pay the cop a fee that is less than the ticket. Then, the cop will take the money, put it in his pocket, and tear up the ticket (they don't make good salaries here). But, of course, we had to do the right thing.

Anyway, taking no chances, I went to the place anyway to make sure it was correct. I entered the building and found a helpful security guard. She confirmed that I was indeed in the right place, and that they opened at 8:30 the next morning. She even gave me the correct room number, or at least I thought it was....

Paying the ticket, day 2.

After breakfast with Dana and Maria, I decided to try to get there a few minutes early just in case. When I got to the tax place, there was a HUGE line of about 30-40 people already waiting at 8:15. I really wanted to get this done because in 48 hours, the fine actually doubles if you don't pay.

Many of the people were clearly unhappy, so I tried to listen in and see what I could pick up. Based on what I could understand, I think the majority were there to pay parking tickets. If you read the last post, we've been seeing alot of police in our area - and this is the result. The people were really aggravated. Many improvements have been made to our neighborhood, but unfortunately the improvements (better fences, new playgrounds, etc) and taking up places where people usually park.

When we were finally let in, I was thankful that the speeding ticket room was different than the parking ticket room. The security guard last night did indeed give me the wrong room, but I was close. After getting pointed to the correct room, I entered. The lady there was in a foul mood. It could be due to the large number of people paying tickets adding to her workload, but I wasn't sure. I just knew she wasn't happy. She fussed at another woman in front of me and made her leave the room with nothing (uh oh!). When it was my turn, she took the ticket and entered it into her computer. I then tried to pay, but of course, this is Romania. There is a different room for actually "paying". This room is there just to log you in only! Without any pleasantries, she initialed my ticket and sent me downstairs.

I once again happily passed the long line where the parking ticket people were waiting to pay. Why the parking ticket and speeding tickets are separated, I don't know, but today it worked fine for me. In this room, a friendly lady took my money. She gave me a receipt, stamped of course - they love stamps here in Romania.You get stamped receipts in Romania for anything that is remotely official, even when you buy gas and at some grocery stores like Selgros, where we shop. She told me to keep the receipt. Yahoo!, it was over...or so I thought.

When I finally got in to work after fighting through the worst time of the morning commute, my coworkers informed me that I wasn't done yet. Good grief! Apparently, I had to notify the police that I had paid the ticket and give them the original receipt and keep only a copy. Problem was, there was really no agreement from the Romanians on how to do this. We finally decided I would go to the Post office and mail it to the downtown police station certified mail. One of the Romanians, Daniela offered to ride home with me for help at the Post office.

Mimi saves the day

As it turns out, we would not need to go to the Post Office. I have been riding home with Mimi, a middle-aged Romanian women who lives near our apartment. It's actually been pretty cool, because Mimi has helped me with my language skills tremendously. She speaks some English, but not alot - which forces me to use Romanian. Well, Mimi and Daniela got talking when we left work. It turns out that Mimi actually paid a speeding ticket before. She said you can give the receipt to ANY policeman. So, when we saw the first parked police car on the way home, Mimi jumped out, spoke to the cop and gave him the receipt! According to Mimi, everything is all set! Whew!