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Toothpick trickster: Why this Spaniard’s ID photo went viral

Sergio Álvarez snapped the cheeky picture as a dare, not realizing it would be approved by the police or cause such a stir online

Palillo DNI
Sergio Álvarez's ID photo with the toothpick in his mouth.

Sergio Álvarez, a 25-year-old from the northern Spanish city of León, reportedly always goes around with a toothpick in his mouth, stating that it helps him not to smoke. Because of a bet he made with some family members, all of Spain now knows this fact about him.

When the young man, who is known among his friends as Panita, went to renew his DNI (Spanish national identity document), he took a photo of himself with a toothpick in his mouth and managed to sneak it past the police officer who issued the document. The picture has gone viral on social media despite the fact that the National Police has already contacted him to get a new ID card made.

The picture has gone viral on social media despite the fact that the National Police has contacted him to get a new ID card

“They told me that I have to go back to the station as soon as possible to change it. They said I haven’t done anything illegal and that they will not fine me, but if I do not change the photo, others could imitate me. If I don’t change it, they’ll cancel my DNI. I’ll be a person without identification,” explains Álvarez to EL PAÍS over the phone.

“I want to get this over with as soon as possible, so that all that is left is an anecdote,” adds Álvarez, emphasizing that his stunt was not done with bad intentions. “I never wanted to laugh at the police, it was just part of a bet.”

A few weeks ago, the young man went to a public notary with several relatives to sign an inheritance document. Once he was there, he realized that his DNI had expired and he immediately booked an appointment to renew it. His aunt advised him to remove the toothpick from his mouth for the photograph, but his brother encouraged him to keep it because it would help everyone identify him even better. “My uncle didn’t believe I would do it, so I bet him a dinner that I would.”

Álvarez took the picture in a shopping center’s photo booth, and brought it to the police station to renew his identity card.

The Ministry of the Interior lays out very clear instructions: applicants must provide a recent color photograph with their face against a white background, without any sunglasses or garments which might conceal the person’s identity. A spokesman for the national police, which is responsible for issuing the documents, admitted that there had been an error and that the young man had already been notified to rectify the mistake.

If I don’t change it, they’ll cancel my DNI. I’ll be a person without identification

Sergio Álvarez

“There was a lot going on at the police station that day. Perhaps the officer thought that the toothpick was a light reflection and didn’t think anything of it. After all, you can see my face perfectly well, you can completely recognize me,” says Álvarez.

“The toothpick story does not surprise me because I always have one in my mouth. What has really surprised me is the attention it has received,” says the young man, who carries several toothpicks in his wallet and even has a box of them in his car.

Álvarez admits that the toothpick photograph is just one of the many pranks he has pulled. Others include running in the most recent San Silvestre race dressed as the Japanese cartoon character Pikachu, or pretending to be a bullfighter fighting a Civil Guard patrol car by whipping around a Spanish flag as though it were a cape, on the day when Spain won the World Cup in 2010.

Now he expects his uncle to keep his word and take him out to an expensive restaurant.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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