Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scammers and "Savage Capitalism"

My Hungarian teacher, Adrienne says that Hungary practices "Savage Capitalism"; the example she gave was that if you don't pay your taxes in Hungary, which apparently almost no one does, the government can't do anything about it. They post your name and picture in the paper if you're one of the most egregious deadbeats, but that's it. BUT- if you don't pay your ELMU bill (electric), the company can send thugs to your house or apartment and start taking your stuff, until they reach the amount that is equal to the amount they say you owe. One woman in the class told a story that her colleague had had a heated driveway, and it got turned on (and left on) when he was moving out of that house. He got a bill that was the equivalent of $16,000. USD. And he had to pay it!!!  So- why is it that ELMU can find you as a deadbeat, but the Hungarian government can't?? 

On the scammer side of the equation is the way that they enforce the transit fares. It has a very spooky and almost "gestapo" feel to it. When you get on the bus or tram, it's not like in the US where you get on the front of the bus, and deposit money or scan your transit card. Here all the doors open and you just get on. You're supposed to have a ticket, or a monthly pass, and if you have a ticket, you're supposed to validate it by punching a hole in it or putting into a machine which time stamps it. It seems like most people don't - either don't have a ticket or don't validate it. But- rider beware-- there are these people who ride the tram together to catch people who are cheating. They have an official "sleeve"- a kind of arm band they wear around their forearm, and cover with another coat or shirt. Then they sidle up to you, uncover the official arm band and demand to see your ticket. If you don't have one, it's a 12,000HUF fine, around $60. If you are a foreigner it is half that amount, but right there, in cash. 

If you can't pay it, they pull you off the tram or bus and they write you a ticket. - I'm a little fuzzy here because the rules are that you can only get a ticket if you actually live in Hungary, everyone else must pay the cash on the spot. If you get a ticket, you have to pay it at the post office within 30 days or it doubles and then doubles again, and then doubles again. So, sometimes you see this flurry of activity, where people start punching their tickets because they've seen the official sleeve come out further up the bus, and sometimes people just get off the bus if they don't have a ticket to punch, and sometimes you see someone get busted.

So, last week we had friends visiting, and we decided that we'd get a family pass for each family rather than worrying about punching tickets. And good thing too. The last ride of the day, Kent leaned over and said "Show him your ticket!"  There he was, looming over me, official armband in my face. I showed my family pass, but the other woman couldn't seem to locate hers. He was waiting..... Then I started to look more closely, and I think we were being scammed. He was with another guy (I was told that if there's only one of them, then it's not official), but the other guy didn't have the official arm band. The other guy wasn't questioning anyone else. The way it usually shakes out, is that the 2 or 3 of them all start to nab people at the same time, so there's not as much time for people to react and ditch the bus. 

It was around 6:30 PM and I think these two were on their way out and decided that maybe someone else should pay for the beers. One of them must have kept his arm band from the day. or maybe the whole thing was a fake. I dunno. I decided I'd take a picture. Then the 2 "officials" ditched the bus immediately. Hmmmmm.... Liz found her ticket by the way. 

Don't these two look like transit cops to you?

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