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The DMV or "to do without money..."

Posted by on in Stories From The Field
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This short post is a bit of a departure in that it does not directly pertain to business in Moldova. That said it a) discusses a proces that any expat needs to go through to stay here (aka - registering with the DMV if you have a car) and b) exemplifies a prevelant mindset here reguarding bribes or "to do something with money" 

So... anyone who has ever gone to the DMV (the "Department of Motor Vehicals" for non-drivers) in the US is aware of what a "fun" process this is. I can't speak to any other countries in the world but I suspect that this is a universally hated institution. I once called the DMV helpline in Virginia and after 30 minutes on hold was told that "there was a higher than normal call volume" and I should call back on Wendsday. It was Thursday. So with the background of having once been put on hold for a week in the US here is the tale of the Moldovan DMV - МРЭО. 


After finally achieving my visa to live and work in Moldova it was time to re-register my car. I drive a 1986 Lada Жигули named Надя (Nadia - "hope" in Russian). Nadia and I have been on many adventures together but have had to take a prolonged break while waiting for my visa as her tags expired. So it was with spring in my step that I grabbed the tags off the car and took a marshrutka (mini-bus) out to where google told me the DMV was. It was my figuring that I would have to pay some fees and do some paperwork but that this would be fairly straight forward. In Virginia you do this by mail. Sadly (but predictably) in Moldova things are more complicated. I was turned away from the DMV because they needed to see my car as well. I asked them "am I allowed to drive here with expired plates?" This was met by a blank stare which I took to mean "yes sir we will personally vouch for you in the event of trouble and go so far as to expound upon your great personal character should the police have doubts." I drove in the next day. 


At this point we began a major "checking over" (translated from Russian - "to control") every aspect of the car. First it started with whether or not I had my mechanical inspection (I did), it progressed to whether or not the engine was the one stated on my previous registration (it was) and then it moved to whether all the car's VIN numbers checked out. I'll add that in this process the many was quite friendly and amused/bemused that an American would own such a car as this. When he went to check the VIN number though he became much more confrontational. He asked why I had painted the body VIN number over (I didn't own the car when it was painted) and was quite unhappy and insisted I hire an "expert" to determine what the number was under the paint. I wasn't sure what this meant until he pointed me to an office across from the service window in the DMV with the door plaque "EXPERT." He also was wearing a service jumpsuit with the label "EXPERT" on the back. 


b2ap3_thumbnail_mcmakin.jpgIf only all people came with descritive labels (fyi this is a DUI mugshot)


The expert then proceeded to dissolve my paint on the VIN number. When he got down to the number it was there and seemingly matched my registration fine. That said, this part of the car had a layer of primer paint they considered "suspect" under the outer red paint. In order to check elsewhere they dissolved paint on another part of the car (selected at random) to see what that looked like. It did not have the primer which made them even more suspicious. At this point the "expert" (who is like 60+ years old) declared that he needs to consult an "expert" specialized in old cars. So we hopped in my car and drove to another DMV where he grabbed another guy with "EXPERT" on his back to look at my car. This dude was like 23 years old. After much bickering and inspection of the numbers they determined that I was not trying to register a stolen car. While that was a relief I couldn't help but think it was a whole lot of time to figure out it an American was guilty of stealing a car worth far less than $1000. Total cost of headache and paint dissolution? 200 lei (~$13).

Back we go to the DMV and it's time to pay fees. The man behind the counter (friendlier now) give me a sticky note with 5 numbers written on it and tells me these are the fees and I need to pay them at the bank. The bank is across the hall and is staffed by one very bored and indifferent kid. He takes the sticky note and charges me the sum + 5 lei. I asked why 5 lei more? and he says that's the bank fee. I then bring the receipts he gave me back to the DMV window and am loudly berated for having missed one fee for 40 lei. I go back to the bank and tell the kid he forgot one. He rings it up for 45 lei. Interest in the fact that this was his fault? zero. 



customer, why you are still distracting me from playing on my phone?


Finally all is done and I go the next day to pick up my shiny new plates from the central DMV. The DMV branch I was at gave me trouble because they wanted me to turn my old ones in first and when I pointed out that I would be driving across the city without plates they were confused as this never occurred to them. Eventually they made me promise to bring them back and let me go. I got my new plates but the man giving them to me didn't take my receipt for having paid for them (not including the expert I've paid upwards of 800 lei in fees by now - about ~$52). I figured that they didn't need it and after all they had a copy elsewhere at the branch DMV. Done and done.

Not exactly. Two days later I get an extremely angry call from an unknown cell number. It is a man raving about a receipt and he is so mad that I can't even understand what he's saying. I was in a meeting and asked my business partner Vlad to take the call and see what this person wanted (they wouldn't even reply who it was or where from). Lo and behold it was DMV man and he was REALLY mad about the receipt. He seemed to think I was trying to screw him over personally and was especially "hurt" by this because we conducted my business there "without money." This means I didn't bribe him and he was so kind as to accept that.

The next day I turned in the receipt and that was that. The mentality really makes you think though. That bribe wasn't something I could have offered to speed things up or make problems go away. It was his "due" and he waived it because he liked me or was afraid to deal with a foreigner. When bribes aren't offered or even expected but so commonplace as they are "owed" you have a systemic problem. More on that another time...






(Site Admin, Entrepreneur, Contributor)
David is a native of the great Commonwealth of Virginia and lived there through high school in Fairfax County. After high school he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia. During his studies his traveled to Singapore for a semester and gained a respect and love for traveling and immersing in different cultures. After graduation David joined the United States Peace Corps and was posted first in Kazakhstan as an English Teacher and later in Moldova as a Community and Organizational Development Consultant.

When not working on his startup David can be found maintaining various web based side projects (check out: salutmoldova.org) and working on his 1986 Lada Жигули 2101 named Надя (Nadia).


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Guest Sunday, 18 April 2021