Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
You may have heard the saying, “Bribery will get you nowhere.”
I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. In fact, bribery, when done correctly, will get you just about everywhere you want to be.
I’ve spent as much time as possible traveling over the past few years, and basically, everywhere I’ve gone, there is corruption. (And yes, this includes the United States.) Where there is corruption, there is generally an opportunity for bribery.
It sounds like a horrible thing to do, but one thing I’ve learned through research and personal experience is that there are situations that call for behaviors in which you wouldn’t normally participate. Becoming comfortable with things outside your normal boundaries is important.
Now, you’ve got to be careful
The first thing you must know is that bribing a public official is not a good idea – in fact, it’s a felony-level lousy idea. It is against the law in the United States of America to bribe cops, judges, politicians, and other public officials. I am not by any stretch of the imagination recommending that you go and bribe somebody.
There are things that can go wrong—lots of them. Don’t read this and dash off on a bribery spree. I encourage you to be a law-abiding citizen and avoid the need for bribes altogether.
But theoretically, if the S were to HTF, and strictly for entertainment purposes, it’s one of those things you can know but never plan to use.
Knowing how and when to give a bribe can be a very useful skill
The world is not a perfect place, and stuff happens. Discretion is the key. You don’t want to make it seem like you are adding fuel to your felonious fire. You never know if you are talking to the one extremely honest fellow in a group of dishonest thugs when you’re considering whether or not a bribe might make your day go a little smoother.
You also never know if opening the door to you giving someone money will make them think, aha, she’s got even MORE money I can get from her. Pulling a large bill out of a stack of bills is just going to make the price of your bribe go up. It’s not just a matter of saying, “How much will it take for you to make (desired action) happen?”
You’ve got to be more subtle than that. You’ve got to “read the room,” so to speak. If you do this incorrectly, you can get yourself in a tremendous amount of trouble. Again: Don’t go bribe people.
Bribery may make you feel bad
I’ve never bribed anyone in the US, but things can work a little differently in other countries.
The first time I bribed somebody, I felt a little dirty. I felt like I’d just committed a criminal act or something. Well, technically, I guess I did. But if it is an important enough matter – we’re talking about life, death, freedom from incarceration, or not getting your water shut off because you never got the bill – you might need to get past your conscience.
Honest people want to do things honestly. And that’s great – but not everyone you deal with in life is going to be honest or fair in their dealings with you.
You might rebelliously think, “Screw that! I didn’t do anything wrong! I’m not going to give this clown any money!” That response always makes me think of this story.
Greg Ellifritz wrote about the latter situation in his book, Choose Adventure. He was traveling in a taxi through a remote part of Africa and an armed policeman, obviously agitated, stopped their vehicle. When Greg offered him some money, the guy let them pass. So instead of trying to wrestle a gun away from a foreign cop, he gave him the equivalent of 25 cents US. Sure, that crazy cop was in the wrong, but would you rather pay a quarter or risk your life? (Here’s my review of Greg’s book – it should be required reading, even for preppers who never intend to leave the US.)
In many cases, a very nominal amount of money can get you out of a bad situation. I’ve offered a few bribes here and there while traveling, and once I got over my original cringe-y feeling, I don’t feel one bit bad about it. As Greg points out in his book, when traveling, add a little money to your budget for bribery and consider it part of travel costs.
Some people will make it easy for you to see they’re open to bribery
One of the biggest questions in your mind when you do this, is whether the person will be receptive to your offer or want to lock you up and throw away the key?
Some people will make it easy. They’ll hem and haw and say stuff like, “It might be possible, but it would be very difficult” or “I know how you feel. My car broke down recently, and the repair is costly. Nobody likes surprise expenses.” They don’t usually come right out and ask you for it, but they’ll make it evident that for the right price, the cogs in the machine might move.
On the other hand, some will flat out try and extort you. This is common in third world countries where police will threaten to impound your vehicle and leave you on the side of the road because you’re missing some kind of permit that doesn’t even exist. It is infuriating, but your options are to either pay the bribe, let them impound your vehicle, or know someone you can call who will get you out of trouble. I was in the car with my mechanic in Mexico when he got pulled over for not wearing his seatbelt. He calmly made a phone call, spoke in rapid-fire Spanish to the person on the other end, and handed the phone to the officer. It turned out my mechanic had gone to school with the chief of police, and they were still close friends. We were on our way in minutes.
The extortion bribes are infuriating, and the situation determines my response. Am I in the middle of nowhere with a couple of hostile cops threatening me? Am I right downtown, with people all around whose attention I could get if I made a scene? If I can do so safely, it’s my general practice to refuse to pay extortion bribes because that rewards bad behavior. I generally ask for a lawyer or a judge (it’s different depending on what country you’re in), and the difficulty magically disappears. I make every effort to follow the local laws to the letter to keep myself out of this situation, but it doesn’t always matter. With people like this, there’s still some “fee” or “toll” or “permit” that you evaded. I’d rather not encourage tourists’ mistreatment, but I’m going to choose the safest option if I’m put in this scenario.
How to offer a bribe
When offering a bribe, the wording you use is extremely important. Suppose you’ve found that one honest guy in a corrupt group, you want to be able to brush aside your offer as definitely-not-a-bribe-of-course. If you’re not having this conversation in your first language, you will want to be even more careful lest you insult someone’s mother instead of offering them money.
When offering a bribe, you want to be very careful to do it outside of the earshot of others. Figure out who is involved in the situation and has the power to make it go your way, and then try to get him aside so you can find your moment.
You don’t want to say, “What will it cost to make this all go away? Subtlety is of crucial importance. All of the suggestions that follow have some plausible deniability built into them. Here are a few ways to offer a bribe that doesn’t really sound like a bribe, but the person you’re bribing will know it’s a bribe.
- “Can I pay the fine to you now? I’m afraid I only have cash.”
- “You’ve come all this way for no reason. Thank you for being so considerate. The least I can do is offer you some gas money.” (I said this to the guy that was about to cut off my water because I hadn’t received the bill. Thus, I hadn’t paid the bill.)
- “Is there a possibility I can take care of this ticket right now? I’m from out of town and don’t want to have to come back and pay it.”
- “Could I pay you to watch my car if I park it here?” I’ve done this when seeking parking in a busy town in Mexico in a parking lot for patrons only.
- “Do you ever do any kind of consulting work to help people get their paperwork through a little bit faster?” A friend of mine paid a city inspector as a “consultant” to push through some paperwork on a building permit.
- “I heard there was a fee I could pay to make X happen.”
- “I’m in business too. I’d much rather settle this problem now than later when it will cost me more money. Is there anything we can do right now to fix this?”
I prefer it when they tell me the amount they want so I can counter it if necessary or “gratefully” pay it if the price is reasonable. “How much is the fine?” “What is your rate for this type of consultation?” These are both good ways to get an idea of the amount they want. Some will shoot for the moon, and you’ll need to counter it. Others will shock you by how little they ask.
Treat it like a private, quiet, and respectful business transaction because, in many places, that’s precisely what it is. Bribery is a way of life.
Bribery in survival situations
Now above, most of what we talked about was making things run a little more smoothly, getting out of tickets in foreign countries, and small procedural bribes. But in a survival situation, you might be facing the difference between life or death, escape, or imprisonment. Some familiarity with the fine art of bribery could be helpful in that kind of negotiation.
Go big or go home if it’s one of those situations. If your very life is dependent on this bribe, don’t try to cheap out. Hopefully, your money will be hidden in various places across your body so that when you pull the cash out of your pockets, you can make it very clear this is every single dime that you have.
Don’t think that cash is the only currency, either. I live out of suitcases, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room for sentimental keepsakes. I usually buy a piece of silver or gold jewelry everywhere I go for my souvenir. Doing so means not only do I have something pretty to bring back good memories, but I also have something that could be used as a bribe in an urgent situation.
One of Selco’s pieces of advice about using precious metals when the SHTF is to collect wedding rings from pawnshops and secondhand stores. If you bring out a gold coin, a person would not be unreasonable to think you have other gold coins and that this was just the beginning of their lucky day. But if you pull the wedding ring off your finger, it seems a lot more likely that you do not have a bag of wedding rings in your backpack – even if you do.
What are your thoughts?
I know some folks are outraged by the very idea of bribery, just as they are outraged by the idea of scavenging supplies. I consider it another tool in my mental arsenal and one of the many lessons I’ve learned while traveling outside the United States. We might still be looking pretty civilized here in America. But if the collapse we’re currently experiencing continues to devolve, it may not be long until bribery is a way of life here, too.
The ability to navigate this landscape casually and confidently may well be an important skill here at home one of these days.
What are your thoughts on bribery? Have you ever had to “grease some palms” to make things happen more quickly? Have you ever had to bribe your way out of trouble when traveling? Let’s talk about it in the comments.