The Spanish word mordida (mor-DEE-dah) directly translates to "bite," but in Mexico, it is a slang term meaning a bribe—usually one paid to a public official. The more formal word for a bribe is soborno. An example could be, "I got caught speeding in Mexico, and I gave the cop a mordida so he wouldn't give me a ticket." Giving a mordida is different than tipping, which is used to show appreciation for good service in Mexico.
Corruption and Mordidas in Mexico
The Mexican government has been working to combat corruption, with limited success. However, the custom of paying mordidas in government offices is not as widespread as it was in the past. It's best to avoid paying mordidas whenever possible so that you're not playing into and reinforcing this system. It is possible to travel, live, and do business in Mexico without paying mordidas, and many people, both residents and tourists, have never even had an encounter with the police.
When to Pay a Mordida
You are most likely to come across the dilemma of mordidas when you're driving in Mexico and stopped by traffic police. These police officers earn modest salaries and sometimes disregard traffic violations in return for a cash payment. In certain situations, a refusal to pay a mordida will result in the cop letting you off the hook anyway if he doesn't feel like writing up and reporting a formal violation.
In other cases, they may confiscate your drivers' license or the license plate of your vehicle so that you are forced to go to the police station to pay a fine. Remember that fines for traffic violations in Mexico are not terribly expensive, but it is a hassle to go to the station and fill out the required paperwork.
Note: If you pay a ticket within five days of receiving it, there is usually a discount, so it is advisable to pay as soon as possible.
How to Pay a Mordida
If you are in a situation in which you feel you must pay a mordida, but you don't know how to broach the topic, the subtle way to mention it is to ask: How can we resolve this? "Como podemos resolver esto?" This will probably result in a price being mentioned. It is quite common to haggle about the amount of a mordida, so don't feel like you have to pay the initial amount requested. If you are a tourist—and it's obvious that you're not from Mexico—you will probably be expected to pay more, so do bargain to bring the amount down.