Once in a while, a really funny story happens that’s worth its own blog post. Here goes.
I parked my rental car in the lovely town of Santarem, Portugal. I was with a friend and we pulled in to a space near a church. We looked around, it seemed legal, locked the car, and walked around for about 30 minutes. When we returned to the car it was piss-pouring, I mean that rain was really coming down. As we were about to enter our car, we discovered a white paper under one of the windshields. It was completely in Portuguese and we had no idea what it said. So, I gently extracted the ticket and ran over to the church where I saw two men talking.
Now, I still don’t speak Portuguese, and these men hardly spoke English, but when I asked if they could explain what this paper said, they indicated that it was a parking ticket because I failed to pay the parking meter. When they said it, they pointed to it, and that’s the very first time I even saw the meter. One gentleman told me to go to the police station, which was quite close. The other one wagged his finger at me and made gestures like I should tear up the ticket and forget it.
My conscience wouldn’t rest, so I decided on the police station. First, as I drove there, I saw a policeman. I parked by him, got out, and asked his help. He repeated that it was a parking ticket and that I should go to the police station. I asked him how to get there, and he told me to turn around (mind you, this turn seemed completely illegal!) and head up a street to my left.
We arrived at the police station, soggy ticket in hand, and were told to wait. No other civilians were there, and it seemed like a lot of flirting and pleasantries were happening with the police, not that I could understand a word of what they were saying to each other, but the laughter and body language seemed to say enough. Finally, after at least 20 minutes, a new policeman walks in and tells us to follow him, which we do.
He had us sit down at his desk, and explained to us that we have failed to pay the parking meter. We profusely apologized saying we didn’t even see the meter, and would be happy to pay him the 1 or 2 euros, and noted that we had gotten to the police station within 30 minutes of even getting the ticket in the first place. He pulled out a big book full of photocopied paper, and pointed to the line that must have said “parking ticket fees for stupid foreigners” and told us we had to pay 30 euros. We were stupefied. 30 euros, WTF?
We challenged this fee and he said we could pay in cash. We told him we didn’t have that much cash on us, so he happily informed us we could pay with a credit card. We told him the credit cards were in our car, not with us. He consulted some colleagues, mostly because I don’t think he completely understood us.
His colleague asked us, “Who is the owner of the car?”
We replied, “It’s a rental.”
The policeman said, “Forget it. You can go,” and tore up our ticket.