Language Barrier


My dear friend Pamela has left Kazakhstan. In her honor, I present another TIK Driving Moment.

This occurred Sunday, June 5, as we came home from Pamela’s bridal shower.

The cop steps out from behind the parked cars on the side of the road and signals us with his baton. As one, we groan, and Pamela pulls over.

The standard procedure for getting pulled over by a cop in Kazakhstan is as follows:

1. Get out of your car with all of your paperwork.
2. Stand on the side of the road and argue.
3. Give the cop a “tip.”
4. Drive away without a ticket.

However, there are ways to get around this, and Pamela is prepared.
She cuts the engine and looks at us very seriously.

“No one in this car knows Russian,” she says, “or Kazakh. Okay?”
We nod, and Pamela begins to sort through her documents, but she doesn’t get out of the car. After a few minutes, the cop walks over to us and taps on the window.

Pamela rolls it down, and we are momentarily blinded as the man shines his flashlight into each of our faces.

Cop (in Russian): Oh, well look at this: five beautiful women.

Pamela (in English): Hello!

Cop (in Russian): I need to see your documents.

Pamela (in English): How are you?

Cop (in Russian): Documents? I need your documents.

Pamela (in English): I don’t understand you.

Cop (in Russian): Do you speak Russian?

Pamela (in English): Do you need to see my license?

Pamela hands him a messy pile of papers through which he begins to sort. She forgets, however, to give him her registration, the most important driving document in Kazakhstan.

Cop (in Russian): I need your registration.

Pamela (in English): My name is Pamela.

She points to her name on one of the documents, and he catches sight of her henna tattoo.

Cop (in Russian): What’s this?

He grabs her hand and pulls it into the light.

Pamela (in English): Uh, henna?

Cop (in Russian): Does it come off?

He begins to rub at the tattoo with his thumb.

Pamela (in English): It’s henna. Henna? India people!

Cop (in Russian): I need your registration. Your car passport! Car passport.

Pamela (in English): Passport?

The cop drops Pamela’s hand and sticks his head into the car to look at the rest of us. In the back seat, Ashley is holding a vase of roses, while Elisa and Diane each have a bag in their lap. I’m in the passenger’s seat up front holding a painting. It’s a long story.

Cop (in Russian): Do any of you speak Russian?

The three of us who do speak Russian – Ashley, Diane, and myself – shake our heads “no.”

Cop (in Russian): Do any of you speak Kazakh?

Our only Kazakh-speaker, Elisa, waves her hands and says in English, “No.”

Pamela (in English): Oh, do you need this?

She hands him her registration.

The cop looks at it, looks at Pamela, looks back at the registration, and then calls out to his partner. He motions for Pamela to exit the car, which she does, and takes her to the front of the car where he begins to point and gesture.

One of the headlights is out, and we can see Pamela’s eyes grow wide with feigned innocence as she says, “I didn’t know.”

Cop (in Russian): You can’t drive with a broken headlight.

Pamela (in English): I didn’t know it wasn’t working. That’s weird.

Cop (in Russian): It’s easy to fix.

He hits the hood of the car with his fist.

In the car, we four girls try to stifle our giggles.

By this time, the cop’s partner has joined the two outside, curious as to what is going on.

Cop #1 (in Russian): Hey do you know English?

Cop #2 (in Russian): Чуть-чуть (Choot-choot; a little).

Pamela (in English): Oh, choot-choot! Like a train!

She raises her arm and pretends to pull a train whistle.

Pamela (in English): Choot-choot!

The cops begin to laugh.

Cop #1 (in Russian): Let me see your hand again.

He grabs her hand and shows it to the other cop.

Cop #1 (in Russian): Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Pamela (in English): Henna. HEN-na.

Cop #1 (in Russian): It doesn’t come off. Look!

He licks his thumb and rubs the tattoo. Pamela pulls her hand away. The partner doubles over in laughter and walks away.

Pamela (in Russian): May I go?

Cop (in Russian): Go on, go on.

Pamela returns to the car and gets back in. We pull away and wave goodbye to the cops. As we continue down the street, Pamela says, “I feel good. That was probably the highlight of their night, and I didn’t even have to pay. But honestly, who can have all the legal documents required for driving and not know some Russian? TIK.”

TIK indeed.

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