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Let's suppose that you're pulled over by a traffic police (or caught doing something unpleasant by patrol cop). What is the best way to address the officer?

I've heard people using "командир" or "начальник" a lot, but it looks a bit subservient to me (which I'd prefer to avoid).

Also, would you suggest to use "ты" or "вы"? Most of "traffic cop trolling" videos show that cops don't like when people sound too official.

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    I don't use "командир" or "начальник" as well. I would simply use "вы" in most of the cases, maybe "товарищ офицер [or his rank]" sometimes.
    – Vilmar
    Jan 26 '15 at 6:41
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    I generaly don't address them specifically in any way. I just say "здравствуйте", adress them politely with вы etc. "командир" or "начальник" are very very slang to me, and even I, being a native speaker, prefer to be careful with these. I hear them used mostly by people that had some problems with law in the past, and I don't want to look like one XD
    – Highstaker
    Jan 26 '15 at 11:21
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First of all I'd recommend addressing all officials in a polite way, so you use "вы", but not "ты". Most of the times just that polite addressing is totally fine.

If you're pulled by a cop than he is supposed to introduce himself. That include his rank and surname. "Сержант Козлов" for example, or "Старший инспектор Иванов". Traffic cops are usually some kind of "инспектор". You could use his rank preceding it with "товарищ". That'll be "товарищ инспектор".

Other options:

  1. Using just "инспектор" looks kinda rude.
  2. Surname without rank ("товарищ Иванов") makes it look like you're addressing regular citizen not official. Would not recommend it since reaction is unpredictable.
  3. Using full introduction as it was "Старший инспектор Иванов" on the other hand is too official. Sometimes you'd like that, at least could be useful in case of an argument.

"командир" or "начальник" - naturally used by truck drivers, old school taxi drivers, ex-cons. Others might use it to make situation more friendly in case of asking officer of some favour (not writing a ticket and letting go with warning for example). In that case those addressing is usually done with open smile as if you're friends and prolonged vowels "командииир", "начаааальник".

Note: if used with "товарищ" or "гражданин" it is "товарищ командир". No proof but "гражданин командир" sounds really strange. I presume that's because it's militaristic addressing, there are no citizens in army only comrades. On the other hand "товарищ начальник" and "гражданин начальник" both ok. Later is more commonly used as more friendlier. As a rule of thumb "comrade" is a step towards some friendly talk, and "citizen" is a huge leap towards official style communication.

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  • Вот, хорошо расписал. Я сам из России, но почерпнул кое-что новое. Кстати, действительно полицейские, так же как и военные, по уставу обращаются друг к другу "товарищ"? Feb 3 '15 at 13:13
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I'd agree with RNM here on the first item. This would be my list:

  1. Гражданин/товарищ полицейский.
  2. Товарищ military rank, e.g. товарищ сержант. (Of course, this implies you know military ranks, we learned them at school).
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    When I was travelling through Belarus I got off the train at stopover in Gomel to breathe fresh air, buy some drinks etc. I got immediately caught by a cop for walking over railway tracks. I did my best to apologize and play fool but that didn't convince him. Only when I said Ну товарищ прапорщик! he told me to get back to train via bridge above the tracks and get lost off his sight. Jan 27 '15 at 9:41
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As for traffic policeman, you could also address him товарищ инспектор. That’s how his position is officially named in most Russian-speaking countries: инспектор ГАИ (Ukraine, Belarus) or инспектор ДПС (Russia) or инспектор ДПП (Kazakhstan).

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Anyway товарищ инспектор is most neutral.

If you try to use common word like командир that would mean that you're trying to be friendly or showing yourself as a simple driver (I'd even say non-educated person).

If you'd try to address as товарищ лейтенант/товарищ сержант - it's too official and if you're not aware of russian ranks it could be risky, since лейтенант or старший лейтенант makes big difference.

And for sure always вы.

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