Encounters with the Guardia Civil

August 22, 2011 By: erik Category: Complaining, Extremadura, Spain 2,081 views

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Guardia CivilI had my third ever run-in with the traffic division of the Guardia Civil, Spain’s national police force, this past week. I was on my way out of Higuera de la Serena, the small town in Extremadura, southern Spain, where we spend a week each August drinking beer and complaining about the heat. Luckily, it was early in the day, before the day’s imbibing had begun. Before I explain what happened, let me briefly summarize my first Guardia Civil encounter, because the lessons it taught me came in handy this week.

Close Encounter of the First Kind

It was before we moved to Spain. My future wife and I were living in England and had flown to Spain for August vacation. The first time I went to Extremadura with her family was in 2003, and I think this encounter with the law probably happened the second year, in 2004. We had flown to Madrid and rented a car. To save money, I agreed to be the sole driver. My future in-laws’ car didn’t have air conditioning, so we took most of our excursions in our rental car. We were on our way to my future father-in-law’s hometown of Zahí­nos, which took us through the lovely town of Zafra.

In the middle of downtown Zafra, there was a cop directing traffic. He had one arm straight up in the air and was waving his other arm under the other one. I saw his waving arm and thought he was waving me to continue, so I continued, as my future wife and father-in-law erupted in “What are you doing!?” dismay. But by then, it was too late. The cop was whistling and gesturing angrily for me to pull over. I understood this gesture, at least.

As the policeman was approaching, my father-in-law had a brilliant idea: he told everyone in the car to be quiet and “let Erik do all the talking”. My Spanish at this point was very, very limited. When the cop asked for my carné (license), I wondered what piece of meat he wanted me to show him. From a general knowledge of how these things go, I figured I should show him my license. “Americano,” I said. The cop took one look at my North Carolina driver license and decided dealing with a foreigner with a foreign language and documentation while he was supposed to be directing traffic in a busy intersection was too much of a hassle for such a light infraction and he waved me on and said something about “más cuidado“.

The lesson here is, when dealing with an overworked, underpaid cop, the bumbling foreigner tourist act can save you a lot of trouble. I plan to use it as the first line of defense should I ever find myself under mild legal scrutiny.

Close Encounter of the Second Kind

The second time I had to deal with the Guardia Civil, they actually gave me a ticket for not having proof of car insurance in the car, a stupid law that has since been repealed.

On a side note, did you know that, in England, you don’t even need to have your driver license with you. If a cop asks for it, and you don’t have it, you just have to send proof that you have one to a certain address within a certain period of time. How reasonable is that?

Close Encounter of the Third Kind

Last Thursday, August 18, 2011, I was driving my wife and daughter to a nearby town to take my daughter to the emergency room. Well, not really to the ER, but we did go in the ER entrance before getting directed to the main reception area and sent to the pediatrician. She had a bug bite on her foot which was swelling considerably. The doctor gave us a topical antihistamine and the swelling went down in a day or two.

As we were headed to the nearby town, a traffic cop was waiting at the edge of town and flagged me down. I rolled down the window, and, without thinking, some Spanish escaped my lips. But I was feeling pretty innocent, so I just wanted to be helpful and be on my way. He asked for my license, and I opened my wallet to search for my Spanish driver license, but I couldn’t find it. I dug around for a bit, but could only find my American driver license, so I gave him that and explained that I was an American. He examined it and addressed me by my first name, asking for the car’s registration. I found it in the glove box and gave it to him. “The car is in your wife’s name?” he inquired. I answered in the affirmative. He gave me back my documentation and sent us on our way.

When I was driving away, I had two thoughts.

First of all, why the heck were my tax euros paying two officers (his partner had been leaning against their car) to stand out in the heat in Middle-of-Nowhere, Spain (14.5 inhabitants/km2, 37.7 inhabitants/mile2), to check drivers’ documentation? Their primary objective must have been to check for seatbelt use and people driving without a license, but I can’t imagine that would be very fruitful. Oh, and also, I was taking my child on an emergency visit to the doctor!!

My second thought was to congratulate my own cleverness in outwitting myself. I remembered that I had intentionally hidden my Spanish drivers license deep in a part of my wallet that I normally never put things specifically for this situation to make sure my future self didn’t chicken out, get too obedient, and proffer my Spanish license first. Sure enough, the nerves of dealing with an authority figure was enough to preoccupy me enough to the point where I was unable to find my Spanish license (and I was trying to find it). Not that it would’ve been a disaster, but giving him a document that he knew how to read would not have helped my cause in any way, and it might have led him to discover the traffic law I was actually breaking: driving with non-prescription sunglasses.

I often find that my future self is a bit of a clueless idiot that needs all the help he can get.

  • aquariumdrinker

    That’s probably one of the better uses of your tax euro (no “s” on the plural, amigo). Those cops probably aren’t rich, which means they are likely to spend most of what they get paid. And they don’t contribute to the ridiculous number of unemployed sitting around thinking about creative ways to blame someone else for their unemployment. Sorry to hear about Nora’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bug bite.

  • Ktdragonfly

    You got cleared with an American driver’s license? I have been pulled over once by the GC, who were doing roadside alcohol tests. My California license was not enough for him, and he warned me that not having an international driver’s license (which is $15 thru AAA) could be around 200Euro fine. From what we checked later online, he was right, Spain does not acknowledge American licenses.
    From what I have been told, the GC was created by Franco and never disbanded Post Franco. The roadside checks (as explained to me by a Spanish man) are to check for illegals, and possibly ETA suspects….sounds really “Arizona” to me, but seems the Spanish people don´t mind so much, other than the occasional pain in the culo. To me, it’s a cultural difference I will probably never come to grips with. You can take the girl out of the US…

    • My understanding, which I verified with the DGT, is that a US driver’s license is valid in Spain for one year only. Which, of course, raises the question of “one year from when?”, to which I never got a satisfactory answer. I’m not sure that the law is that tight.

    • Related: It’s not uncommon for sexagenarian men who grew up under Franco to try to goon each other in bars by sneaking up behind one another and shouting, “Documentación!” in an authoritative tone.

    • Related: It’s not uncommon for sexagenarian men who grew up under Franco to try to goon each other in bars by sneaking up behind one another and shouting, “Documentación!” in an authoritative tone.

    • Related: It’s not uncommon for sexagenarian men who grew up under Franco to try to goon each other in bars by sneaking up behind one another and shouting, “Documentación!” in an authoritative tone.

    • Pepe

      “From what I have been told, the GC was created by Franco and never disbanded Post Franco”
      Then you were told wrongly by someone who had no idea about the GC. The Guardia Civil was created in 1844 by D. Francisco Javier Girón, Duke of Ahumada, a Spanish aristocrat descendant of, among others, the Master of the XV-century Castilian Military Order of Calatrava and the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma.

  • Ed_tollett
  • Jose

    I think it’s one of the funniest entries on this blog. You hid your driver license to yourself knowing it would better to not find it, and when you did try to find it, you couldn’t, axactly as you had planned it! Awesome.
    I play tricks on myself sometimes, but not that elaborate.

  • Anonymous

    @ba25af41a1099b31e9441b25cb70a798:disqus Just as a point of information, the Guardia Civil was almost 100 years old when Franco came to power.  Their original charter provided for a rural ranger sort of deal (perhaps the most polemic part of which, in our PC world, was the specific injunction to hastle gypsies).  While the “pareja” did come to be associated with Franco’s repression, they are a branch of the Spanish military and have been loyal to AFAIK all incarnations of the Spanish government.

  • Jim A

    Had an encounter with The Guardia Civil in Spain. I was a passenger (friend was driving) heading to my hotel when we had a random stop. When asked for an ID I gave him my State drivers License, then he asked for something else (passport, but I didn’t understand). He said that my Drivers license was not valid and that i needed my Passport, which i had. I suggest to carry your passport if your from US visiting Europe, 😉

    • The laws on the books are one thing, and the laws that are enforced/enforceable are another. What did he do? Something other than warn you that you were being naughty? If you don’t have it to give him, his options are restricted to warning you or arresting you, and the latter won’t lead anywhere good for either party.