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Letter to the Editor: One person's battle against a bouncer

Dear Editor,

Take this as a hypothetical, if you like. Or take it as a real-life experience.

You've been in Bratislava one month, it's Saturday night, you're in a bar, out of money and it's time to go home. As you get up to leave, a waitress comes over to say that you can't leave until you've paid for a vodka and sprite, because your wallet's been bled dry.

As you walk towards the exit, a very well nourished bouncer, alerted by the waitress who is now screeching like a fisher wife, pulls himself out of his chair. In an attempt to speed his comprehension, you show him your empty wallet and ask why one would order a drink without money. It doesn't matter, no one can understand each other. The bouncer suddenly takes interest in your pretty colored international driver's license. To appease him, you take it out of your wallet and give it to him to play with, but it goes straight into his pocket. It appears you're free to leave now.

You wake Sunday afternoon and as the events of the previous night begin to take shape, you start to ponder the absurdity of what happened. It shouldn't be a problem, just call the manager and get the license back. Someone will probably get put through the ringer over this, you think. So, Sunday night you make the call, but no one answers. It must be a busy night.

Monday night, you drive in, closed. Tuesday you call to see if they are open, no answer. Wednesday you drive in again. It's open. You go to ask a waitress if you can see the manager, but abruptly a hand is put in front of your face. She is on her way to take an order and may only do one thing at a time, steady as she goes. When one of the other waitresses finishes her cigarette, you ask for the manager, and she asks why you want to see him. When you tell her, she says they don't have a manager. You do learn however, that the bouncer gave your license to the waitress who instigated the incident, presumably as a trophy, and that she only works Thursday through Saturday.

It's now Thursday night and as you drive downtown to finally claim your license, you are stopped by two young police officers. Inevitably, the question is asked, "May I see your license sir?" When it was explained that you don't have it and why, 400 Sk is demanded. You assume this is a fine and make it clear that you don't have the sum on you. When 200 Sk is demanded, you realize that he is demanding you bribe him, subtly put.

You get the feeling you could beat him down to 50, but simply make it clear you won't pay, and with a frustrated 'time is money' attitude you get waved on.

A couple of hundred meters later, you are stopped by another two young officers. This time, the slightly older and more confident of the two demands you bribe him with 500 Sk, again subtly as a falling brick.

After you realize you won't get away from these two quite so easily, you point out that the bar in question is only around the corner, and they agree to wait at your car for you to return with the license.

Once inside the bar, you locate the waitress with surprising ease, but what's even more surprising is that she is quite pleasant now. "So, have you got my license?" you ask. She tells you she does and that she will even give it back without demanding you bribe her, only she left it at home. Surprised by nothing anymore, you ask if she would mind explaining that to the officers circling your car, and she agrees.

The older officer launches into what sounds like a scathing attack of the waitress, presumably for taking your license, and carries on for a good five minutes. He is clearly enjoying himself. His partner simply stands around awkwardly, not quite knowing what to do with his arms.

What can you do but laugh and hope the officer doesn't think it's because of the green uniform somebody made him wear.

In the end, you're free to go, on foot, as the officers go in search of greener pastures. As you walk home and take in the architecture of the old town, you wonder at the civilized, educated minds behind the designs, all that time ago, and wonder what has gone wrong. Even a night out can take longer than you think in Bratislava.

Chris Harcourt, Bratislava

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