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…
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.