Monday, May 12, 2008

Bringing the Ugly


Over the past week, Dorá and I have both had to deal with the ugly side of the public services offered here in Budapest.

Dorá's story is the more frustrating of the two. She was driving home from work last Saturday when a police officer stopped her. They can stop you for no reason here, just pull you over because they feel like. So the cop comes to the driver's side door and goes through the car papers. He's at it for a few minutes when he stops and says, "Well would you look at that. You failed to get your emissions service done in February." Then he waited for a beat. Then he waited for another. Then he asked
Dorá, "What are we going to do about this?" And he stood there repeating that question. Dorá says he was at it for at least 30 minutes (read 10 minutes).

Now,
in that situation Dorá was supposed to say the magic words: "Is there some way we can solve this problem here?" The cop would have named a price, and Dorá would have shelled out something between $50-$100.

To her credit,
Dorá wasn't in the mood for that kind of bullshit. She was not about to give that prick a dime. So after some time had passed, the cop took our car papers away and told Dorá that we would not be allowed to drive the car again until the papers had gone through the appropriate channels. Then, before telling Dorá that she could drive the car home via the most direct route, the officer had the gall to ask, "Young lady, haven't you ever been in this situation before? A situation in which you could solve the problem here and now, without losing your papers?"

Again to her credit,
Dorá simply looked at the officer and said, "No." (I love that woman)

Yes, it is inconvenient. And yes, it could have been avoided for what is not a lot of money, but I am proud of
Dorá for not perpetuating a corrupt system.

The fact that the officer asked her, with disbelief in his tone, about her lack of experience with bribing cops is the most infuriating part of it all.

If this country ever wants to lift itself out of the backwards backwaters of the underdeveloped world, if Hungary wants to stand tall among other members of the EU, then this complacency is the first thing that has to go. People look the other way,saying things like, 'Oh, the cops don't make enough money. They need to take bribes.' or 'Well, it's better than giving it to the corrupt politicians.' And I get to pulling my hair out when I hear these poor excuses for excuses. If you can't count on the police to protect and serve, then they shouldn't get paid that much. But the population pads the pockets of incompetent police officers, and the pattern continues.

Speaking of incompetence, I called the national health emergency line yesterday, and the woman who answered hung up on me. I called because while out on a walk I nearly stumbled over a man sprawled out across the sidewalk. He was clearly drunk, but he also looked as though he could have hurt his head when he hit the ground. He was facing the sky. His eyes were closed. He was sweating profusely. There was a lot of spittle in his mouth and the stuff popped and bubbled as he breathed in and out. It was pretty awful.

Another man stopped beside me. The two of us looked at the man and shook our heads. He asked if I had a phone. I asked him if 104 was the right number to dial. He said he thought that was a good idea.

When I explained the situation to the woman on the other end of the line, she asked, with a bit of disbelief in her tone, "He's lying in the street?"

I told her that was correct, and she said, "Thank you. Goodbye." And she hung up.

I waited a bit, but I knew there would be no assistance sent out.

After a while, the drunk started to stir. A man about my age helped the guy to his feet. The drunk tried to get moving, but the good Samaritan and I didn't think it looked very promising. We watched as the man nearly stumbled into the street, then stumbled back to find the nearest building for support. If he's lucky, after we left him, the only person he hurt was himself.

So I'm left asking, why does a city like this even have public services? The public servants who are out on the street are looking for bribes while the civilians in need are ignored.