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9/28/08

Make sure you're sitting down for this one: Tourists Get Charged More Than Locals In LatAm

Argentina's daily "Clarin" today picked up on an old chestnut in this story. They pointed out dual pricing was against the law but even so tourists get ripped for a few dollars more while tripping in Argentina. It tried to sound all shocked and indignant, but really the surprise level is zero. So as a tall, white-skinned gringo with over a decade in the region and wide and varied travel history, here are a few I've had the pleasure of coming up against:

Taxi drivers. This one is close-on universal, from the innocent and totally payable 1 Boliviano extra I'm charged in La Paz, to the dollar or so they'll add on in Colombia (no worries) to licenced bandits on wheels. "Ah, pero Meester, the meter is in dollars, not Pesos" in Buenos Aires. "Ah, pero Meester, the meter charge is per person and you are two people" in Montevideo. I think my favourite is Lima airport, though. Just for the laugh nowadays I put on my bad "cuantow cuestarrr to Mirarrflouresh?" act just outside the door on leaving the main terminal, and get told something between U$40 and U$60 in reply. I then walk three minutes to outside the airport gate and get a S/20 (U$7) ride to the same place. Bless 'em!

Police officers. I was a biker while living in Argentina. There you put a 20 peso note in the left side of the leatherette licence-holder. If a policeman stops you, just hand the thing over and wait. He'll walk to his car, walk back, say "thank you, everything's in order" even if the licence has a picture of Che Guevara instead of you, and return your licence with smile and sans banknote. It's not a bribe, it's just the way it is when you're a foreigner.

Restaurants.
"Waiter! This check says the meal was 10 pesos! On the door it says 5 pesos!"
"Yes sir, it's 5 for the meal and 5 for the cover charge."
"Yeah right."
"Tips aren't included, by the way." (smiles)

Hotels. Trying to explain to a tourist that you can (in fact 'should' is a better word) bargain the ticket price for a room in any grade of hotel in any part of the continent is difficult. That price on the wall behind reception is there for just two reasons:
1) To make locals feel like they're getting a bargain for 30 when it says 50.
2) To charge gringos.
I guarantee that nobody in a hotel will ever get annoyed if you say "got anything cheaper?".

Shoeshine boys. Look, I don't mind paying a coin extra, I really don't. But when they tell me that black shoe polish is U$3 a tin it just gets on my nerves. Every single freakin' time.

Beach vendors. On a two week vacation in Buzios, Brazil, every day at the same time the guy came round with hammocks for sale. Day one was U$50. Day eight was Rs11 (about U$5) and a sale and we shared a beer to celebrate.

Lan Airlines. I like the service and the planes, but I hate hate hate the way I cannot pay the local prices while sitting in the local country just because I have a gringo credit card. For your information, foreigners unwittingly pay up to double for their ticket on Lan's internet booking service. So I don't bother anymore; as I live close to an airport I just take a taxi down there and pay cash at counter.

An ex-neighbour once asked me if he could 'pinchar mi luz' (i.e. tap into our house's electricity line and get free juice from us). When I said no, he comes out with "but you're a gringo, you must have money." Bless him!

There are plenty more. The plain fact is that I do pay more than a local local, and if it's a coin here and a coin there it never bothers me. But when you flag down a taxi with a small kid in school uniform and ask to go to an out of the way barrio (i.e. our house) and the dude looks you up'n'down and promptly doubles the normal asking price, it does kinda get a bit too much. Whatever the good or service, large or small, there's a 'fair price'. My idea of a fair price to pay is a 10% gringo premium, not 100%.

PS: If you're offended in any way by the word 'gringo', get a life.