Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Life of Crime

I got a notice that I had to sign for something at the Posta. Usually that means a box from Kathy or Ted, and I'm excited. But no one told me that they were sending anything. When I got there, it was an official document. Which I, of course, cannot read. It was 2 pages long, with the official seal of the town, and an amount (10,000 HUF) set off, all by itself. I was pretty sure this was a fine.  Then a little further on, another, higher amount (30,000 HUF), also set off by itself.  Not looking good.  Google Translate said "illegal dumping" and that found me guilty "by way of letters" 

Okaaaaaaay.... well; now I knew what it was. But I also know that it's not true. I was recycling my papers at the town hall and someone came out to tell me "Nem, Nem, Nem!" and then something beyond my "Survival Hungarian" vocabulary. Another women came out to tell me that these recycling bins were only for the town hall. The town used to have a very big recycling center that closed earlier this year. Then right after that, these bins appeared right in front of the town hall.  I usually bring my recycling to some other bins near the shopping center, because the town hall is not all that convenient for me. Until one day when the trucks were picking up the recycling and so I couldn't go to my usual places.  And I remembered the town hall. 

I apologized to the women at the town hall, and asked where the town recycling was now that the other place had closed. She didn't say, "You'd better climb into the bin and get your stuff out of there, or you'll get in trouble." I didn't ask if I should climb into the bin- why would I? Well, now I see clearly that I should have asked that question.

So, I brought the letter to my Hungarian teacher who read it, muttering, "Oh this is not good. This is not good." Then she told me I should get a lawyer. That if I didn't pay the fine, it would escalate, but not just to the higher amount of money, but that I could be required to do 5 days of community service (probably picking up trash along the roadside in an orange jumpsuit) or - ready? - Spend 3 days in jail.  Yep. Three days in JAIL.... My teacher offered to write up my side of the story so I could present it. I did it, and she translated it. One mother at school helpfully pointed out that my Hungarian would probably improve enormously in just those three days; kind of an immersion program.   There was another joke about not bringing my passport with me when I went to the town hall, as it might be taken away. And some additional jokes about my flight from the country, being pulled out of line at the airport and the possibility that I should take a train to Vienna and leave Europe from there... All very funny, initially.  Then I was talking to some of the teachers, who told to me to bring it to "Laszlo" the fixer at school.  Kent took both documents to him this week and he said, flat out-- "Pay the fine."  He said that indeed I MIGHT be pulled out of line at the airport and not permitted to leave the country. He said that even though I was right, it would not be good to try and fight it, because the charges might not be resolved by the time we wanted to leave the country. And here I thought we were kidding when we were laughing about it over coffee....

In the end, we decided to bow to the will of the State and pay the stupid fine. It really frosts me, because I have recycled every paper, plastic bottle, milk container, can and bottle since we’ve been here. I was trying to do the right thing. And for what? One woman said, “Just do what I do; throw it all out in the bin.”

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