I think I’ve entered the next stage of culture shock.
First is the honeymoon stage. Everything is new and exciting and it feels like things are coming easily. In a month, I had an apartment, a scooter, and a solid circle of friends. There was a little bit of a struggle at times, but by and large it was fairly easy.
Next comes the frustration stage (population: Joe)
The novelty of everything has worn off. Hand gestures at restaurants, vague directions in broken English that may or may not be right, and social missteps are always part of it, but this is the point where it just starts getting exhausting.
I arrived in the frustration stage on the back of my scooter, sitting behind the traffic cop who was driving it (and me) to the police station.
It started in Boudha. In Kathmandu, there is zero etiquette when it comes to pedestrians. I’ve spent the past few months watching scooters and motorcycles zoom through gaps in crossing pedestrians, and have even been clipped by them as they pass by. I’ve gotten a handful of bruises from the mirrors of motorcycles that got too close.
I was on the way back from Boudhanath with a friend in heavy traffic. Two pedestrians were crossing the street and trying their luck at Frogger. When I saw them, I decided to go around them instead of slamming on my brakes. It was a close call, but nothing that doesn’t happen a million times here every day.
Nonetheless, a police truck directed us to the side of the road and so the adventure began.
The Boys in Blue
I pulled over to the side with the traffic cop and took off my face mask. It had been just a few moments, but we were already drawing a small crowd. He leaned in and immediately said, “Let me smell you.” Apparently he wanted to check my breath to see if I was drinking. I just told him I wasn’t drinking, and that was that. So if I was drinking, that would’ve been really easy.
Next he asked for my license. I gave him my American driver’s license in lieu of a Nepali one. He asked for a Nepali license. I told him my American one is okay, and again that was that.
Then he wanted my registration, which I gave him. It’s a little black book that has the contact info of my friend whose name the scooter is registered under. He told me to call him so they could talk. After their conversation, I was informed I had to wait with him for my friend to arrive. Another policeman came to drive my scooter (and me) back to the police station to wait.
At this point, I also had no idea why I was pulled over.
We arrived at the station and the cop who drove me got off. I kept asking him why I was there and what the problem was because I thought I heard him speaking English earlier, but he just kept smiling and nodding. Eventually, he started calling over other officers (I assume to find one who spoke English) until we had at least six in a circle around me. One would point to me, say something in Nepali to another officer, and they’d all laugh. The one who spoke English told me he said I’m very handsome. I don’t really believe that’s what he said, but I’ll take the compliment. I just smiled and nodded.
Eventually my friend arrived, and only then was I told that he pulled me over for driving too close to a pedestrian. On one hand, I totally understand. It was a close call, and I definitely take some of the responsibility for that. But on the other hand, the whole exchange left me really frustrated, and here’s why:
- The officer who pulled me over made my passenger pay for a taxi home.
- I wasn’t told why I was pulled over and brought to the police station until my friend arrived.
- If there had been an incident, my friend would’ve been the one to get in trouble, which is fucking stupid. At least let me take responsibility for my fuck-ups.
- Also the fact that my friend had to come at all. I’m very lucky that he was available to just drop what he was doing and come over, or it could’ve been a much longer misadventure.
- The officer told me all about how he understands pedestrians can be reckless and that they’re working on getting people to be more orderly. Personally, I think that if he really cared about that, he would’ve talked to those pedestrians who were almost 50% of an accident.
- Nothing we did felt necessary. There was not a single thing we did at the station that we couldn’t have resolved in a few minutes right where he first pulled me over. It really just left me feeling like he was trying to give me a hard time.
The Next Stage
Now, I’m aware of the fact that despite the temporary inconvenience of the situation, I probably got off really easy. I didn’t even have to pay a bribe — I mean, a fine — which is what I was expecting. There’s not a lot of involuntary visits to police stations in the developing world that end so amicably. But I also can’t shake the feeling that it was all very unnecessary. I dunno, man.
This was just the frustrating thing at the end of a line of frustrating things that have unceremoniously dropped me at the next stage. Arguing for a fair price every time I get in a taxi, deflecting shifty tour guides trying to lure me to their friend’s business, and being asked for English lessons every time I share that I’m an English teacher (seriously, so often) gets old after awhile.
All that said, it still hasn’t soured my attitude about Kathmandu. For every sleazy guy looking to make extra money off ignorant foreigners, there’s three others who would help me for free. And there’s a silver lining to all this — I’m getting closer to starting to understand this place. There’s still a lot that I don’t get and tonight I’m just tired and frustrated, but I’m gonna own this place before I go.