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Czech Life

My brush with the Czech authorities

Before you read any further I would like to make it clear at the outset that i do not have a criminal record. I have never been in trouble with the police in Czechland, the UK, or anywhere else. The height of my criminal exploits was getting thrown out of a party at the British Embassy in Finland when I was fifteen, for underage drinking.

Until last night.

I was walking home, up Wenceslas Square.  As I got to the old building of the National Museum, I paused at the pedestrian crossing.  The red man was showing but after having a good look about I realised there was nothing coming at all in any direction. So I crossed.  And walked right into the arms of the two policemen, who were there waiting for idiots like me who don’t know: it is illegal to jay-walk in the Czech Republic

The scene of the crime

 After I was berated by the policemen in angry-sounding Czech, I took advantage of the convenient lull in conversation which followed to make good use of my best “Mluvíte anglicky?” (my new language tactic is to focus on the raw essentials). And PC Petr and Pavel did indeed speak Anglicky.  PC Petr asked me to produce my passport whilst PC Pavel gently but very firmly held my arm.

Now, I must ask: Who walks around with their passport if they’re not on the way to the airport?  I can’t decide whether it is a particularly English trait not to cart a very important document around with you all over the place, or a very Czech thing that people feel the need to do so.  I thought it might not quite be the time to ask, but explained that I didn’t have my passport on me.  I handed over my Opencard (like an Oyster card), which seemed to do the trick.

PC Petr rang the police station with my name, to check if I had a criminal record. It took an absolute age. Two things happened:  Firstly, I got a very strong urge to giggle.  My lip started to twitch and I had to concentrate very hard on something very sad (lovely Sophie from the X-Factor being voted off and her dreams of being a barmaid-come-popstar shattered) to stop a laugh escaping.

Secondly, and simultaneously, I started to worry.  I’m sure I’m not the only one: I get incredibly nervous around authority figures and suddenly wondered if my Embassy-crashing history had caught up with me. I also had a terrible flash back to my pre-Opencard days when I got caught on the metro with the wrong ticket. I was aware that all the lip twitching was probably not helping my cause and wondered: can people in Czechland be incarcerated for an innocent, if ill-timed road crossing? Or for laughing in front of a policeman?

Actually, after a tense wait, nothing of my shady past materialised and I was waved away with a stern warning from PC Pavel and a reminder that jay-walking attracts a 1,000 czk fine.

So now you know.  The British are a bunch of daredevils who cross the road haphazardly with wanton disregard for their safety.  The Czechs actually (contrary to initial appearances) operate a nanny state where you are fined for crossing the road.

And Sophie? Well, she’s returning to her barmaiding ways, which is just too sad to think about.



About CzechingIn

A blog about an English lady living in Prague.


7 thoughts on “My brush with the Czech authorities

  1. Friends of mine had a brush with the Czech authorities once for not having a valid ticket on the Metro. To be fair they’d been travelling free all week and at the end of our séjour, it finally caught up with them.

    Unfortunately for them, we were all waiting on the coach to leave Prague and head back to France (where we lived at the time). Fortunately for the Police, the girls were carrying their duty free cigs and they were smokers.

    I think you can guess how the story ended.

    Posted by Gary Manning | November 3, 2011, 5:07 pm
  2. This post confirms my long held suspicions with regards the jay-walking laws as being nothing more than a convenient way to fleece tourists. I have, on far too many occasions to mention, jaywalked all over Prague, quite often finding myself walking straight towards a waiting police officer or two halfway through the process, and have never once been stopped for it.

    When I am in the areas that tend to be overrun by tourists, however, I am always much more cautious. Of the people that I know to have been fined for jaywalking, every single one of them was somewhere around the Old Town, Wenceslas Square, Malastrana areas, with the exception of one who was just walking out of Florenc Bus Station.

    All places, as I’m sure you’ll agree, where tourists are likely to congregate.

    And each one of them, after producing their passport, was fined without fail, yet in the same area the production of your Opencard let you off with a warning, as this showed that you were clearly, despite being English, not a bloody tourist!

    In the bad old days the police would also fine you for not carrying your passport with you, and there are also horror stories of the police stopping random tourists for a ‘spot check’ in the center of town and then insisting they pay a fine before their passports were returned to them.

    But you’re probably not all that surprised at the idea that some of the police in Prague might possibly be corrupt!

    Posted by Damien | November 3, 2011, 5:18 pm
  3. I do know a Czech who almost had to pay 1,000 for crossing on a red light near Flora- at a crosswalk that takes FOREVER to turn green. She got him down to 500. But what I’ve learned from Czechs with dogs is that when they get in trouble for not having them on the leash, they smart off to the police, put them in their place and get away with it. You would never ever dream of doing this in the US, or probably England.

    Posted by Jennie | November 3, 2011, 7:03 pm
  4. Hi Czechingin,

    Crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing when a red man is showing, or crossing the road less than 50 metres from a pedestrian crossing, is an offence in the Czech Republic. Likewise, you are meant to have ID with you all the time. Czech citizens all have ID cards whereas we Brits don’t – hence you need to have your passport with you. I’m glad for your sake that the police accepted your Opencard. A photo driving licence would also probably have sufficed too.

    Whilst some of your commenters here may think that the police only target foreign tourists in popular tourist areas, it isn’t altogether true. A few months ago, my wife & I walked across a road in Prague 6 (well off the tourist trail), about 20 metres from a pedestrian crossing, straight into the arms of two police officers who had no idea that we were foreigners. We escaped a fine of CZK2000 each so we were told, only because a bus arrived that they both needed to catch!!!

    Since this incident, we have both checked very carefully, both for green men & the absence of men & women in blue uniforms, before crossing the road anywhere in the Czech Republic.

    Posted by chaplaincz | November 3, 2011, 8:56 pm
  5. Thank you for the warning! I am coming this week to spend 4 weeks in Prague and as a New Yorker/Bostonian, crossing against signal is a way of life! I shall take your warning to heart!

    Posted by Maureen | November 6, 2011, 2:39 pm
  6. You did well to escape with just a warning! Its illegal not to carry ID in the form of a passport (quite difficult if you have to surrender your passport at a hotel) or a green card. Both in Prague and in other towns, the Police jump at the opportunity to fine both foreigners and locals for jay walking as its also illegal. Attitudes may have changed since 1989, but bureaucracy sure hasn’t!

    Posted by qecblog | December 31, 2011, 11:35 am

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