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29 February 2008

Must remember to carry my documents!

I seem to keep blogging about vehicle related stuff, but given that I do a lot of driving over here I guess that can't be helped.

This is a post about remembering to carry your documents with you when driving in Poland. This is something I find hard to adjust to, I simply never remembered to do so having never had to carry documents in the UK. I know that this is a fairly 'normal' requirement, and possibly not unreasonable, but I can't help also feeling slightly resentful that I have to carry documents with me everywhere I go.

Now that I have a Polish car the registration certficate is a tiny practical thing that comes laminated and handily fits in my wallet so I don't have to remember it anymore. But when I first came over with my van, my UK documents were of course all A4 and I had them filed away in a safe place.

So anyway one day early in 2007 I was taking the van back to England for another trip to collect more stuff and to sit an exam back in London. My wife came wife me as usual, but along for the ride was my father-in-law who spontaneously thought he might as well take advantage of a free trip to London given that we had a 3rd seat in the van and he had the time free.
We only got about 2 hours down the motorway when we were stopped by Polish customs.
Now I should mention that if you have an old English van and are returning from anywhere in Central/Eastern Europe you are GUARANTEED TO GET STOPPED at least once on your journey. They expect you to be stocked to the ceiling with cheap cigarettes to dodge the duty in the U.K. Polish customs like to set up random stop check points on border routes and I was on the main E40 motorway heading for Germany.

So of course they asked for my driver's licence, registration certificate and certificate of insurance. I had my licence in my wallet but then remembered that everything else was safely filed away in my filing cabinet back in our flat. The customs guy was incredibly rude. He asked me why on earth I wasn't carrying my insurance and what would I do in the event of an accident - this seemed like a stupid question to me and I made my reaction obvious - if you have an accident you exchange details and then spend months piddling about with the paperwork later - what difference is there if my policy is physically with me or not? The important thing is whether I have the insurance or not, which I did.

So he searched the van, found nothing of course, then decided to call the police to report me for not having my documents. I wasn't too fussed at this point, more annoyed that we were being pointlessly delayed, but my wife was going ballistic with me - she couldn't believe I hadn't thought about documents. Meanwhile my father-in-law was going a funny colour and looking incredibly stressed. I have learnt now that the older generation of Pole are typically quite afraid and respectful of the authorities, and from the look on his face I thought he was going to have a heart attack about it. So 2 hours later (I couldn't just drive off as customs were still holding my driver's licence - believe me, I thought about it) the police arrived. Luckily for me they were two younger and friendly guys who clearly weren't impressed with customs that they had been called out just for this. Seeing how annoyed my wife still was with me, one of them jokingly offered her his baton and showed her where she should hit me with it to not leave any obvious marks. Then they issued me with the minimum on the spot ticket they could - 50 zloty - and sent us on our way.

Of course when I got to the German border the German customs pulled us aside for another search. "Papiere bitte" they asked. Again my father-in-law turned a funny colour. Again my luck was in - because I can speak German I told them that I had lost my documents (well, a small stretch of the truth) and had already got a ticket for it in Poland but needed to get back to the UK to sort my documents out. The customs officer looked at the amount of the ticket, commented on what good value it was said that in Germany it wouldn't have been so cheap before sending us on our way again.

Moral of the story - repeat after me: I will always carry my documents with me when driving in Europe.

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