It’s inevitable, but even the vigilant get swindled. It usually happened on taxi rides when we are trying to determine currency or haven’t done our homework. We’ve been victims on the trip several times.
Beijing Taxi Ride
We arrived at two in the morning and queued for the taxi. The ride was long to the hotel but no traffic; however when we arrived, the meter amount seemed high. At three in the morning, when everyone was tired, who was going to argue…especially when the meter said what it did.
When we left Beijing we caught a reverse cab back to the same airport from a few miles away, the amount was half, showing that the first driver had swindled us using a rigged meter. Sharleen noticed how fast the first rigged meter was but had no comparison until after the regular meter.
Jordan Cab ride
It was late, we were tired, and we caught the bus from the airport to the north bus station. Rain came down as we found we were farther away from our hotel then anticipated. Nearly 15 taxi drivers yelled at us “taxi taxi taxi”. The bus manager, who had helped us catch the bus and told us to depart introduced us to the station manager. The station manager “helped us” find a cab driver. Both kept saying “tip tip tip” and pointing the finger at themselves. They helped us find a cab, and we got in. “You pay NO MORE than 15JD.” The driver and the bus station manager exchanged words in Aabic “No more than 17JD if there is traffic”. We insisted the meter be turned on. The driver sped in and out of traffic, as Sharleen and Alyssa followed on Google maps. “Why didn’t you go that way. You are taking the long way!” Sharleen shouted from the back. “I go to city center. Traffic the other way.” “We are watching you on map!” We pulled up across the street from the hotel. “I drop you off here, so I do’t spend more time in traffic.” We saw the hotel across the street, which was fine with us. “25 JD” That was preposterous. Not only was there no traffic, that is the amount we would have paid for a taxi from the airport, instead of the 5 minute ride we got. “Welcome to Jordan, I give you discount.” Sharleen was yelling at him and I couldn’t even figure out which bills were which. I paid him 15JD and left.
The hotel clerk said a reasonable fare was 5JD, and that some meters go out to 3 digits. Great. So the meter actually said 2.582 JD and not 25.82JD. The taxi driver knew this and swindled us. We were on guard for the rest of our time in Jordan.
Jordan – swindle foiled?
We had to catch another taxi to the north bus station. A hotel clerk called “a friend” who was a taxi driver to provide services for 5JD. We wanted to catch our own, but whatever. We entered the taxi and it smelled like the inside of a ashtray. It stunk. The moment we started to drive:
“Perhaps you want a taxi to Jaresh. The weather is poor and you’d get there faster.”
“No thank you, just to the bus station please.”
“Let me explain to you. You’d pay 1.5-2 JD per person for the bus there and back that is 12-15JD for the bus. 10 JD for the taxi to the bus and back. That is 22-25 JD. You also wait an hour or two for bus on both side. Your time important. I normally charge 40JD for a ride, for you I give discount because of my friend. I take you there and back for 30JD.”
“Thank you for the generous offer, but we’ll just go to the bus station.”
“The road is very bad this time of year (he showed me pictures of snow on the road and cars parked on the side). The bus will stop, they are not so good. Theu don’t have heat. You have two small children. Let me drive you there so everything is safe.”
“Thank you for the generous offer, but just to the bus station.”
“What are you plans tomorrow? ”
“We are taking Jett bus to Petra.”
“Let me drive you there. The roads are very tricky and the weather is bad.” He showed me the same picture of snow on the road as before, but now said this was the road to Petra….which is in the opposite direction of Jaresh.
“No thank you we already bought tickets for the bus.”
“I have a client on the phone right now….are you sure I can’t drive you. I’d rather drive you.”
“No thank you, just to the bus station.”
We arrived at the bus station. We did have to wait over an hour. However:
- The bus cost 1 JD per person not the 1.5-2.
- The bus was heated, we were nice and toasty.
- There was no snow on the road. It didn’t even rain.
- The freeway was in good repair and the bus made it fine.
- In all we paid 15JD for our total transportation that day a big savings from his “discounted” 30JD for our convenience and safety.
This wasn’t much as a swindle as “premium pay” for additional service.
Food in UAE
We stayed well off the beaten path in Dubai. Even though plenty of people knew English, most menus were in Arabic and we were reduced to pointing out what we wanted. At a local neighborhood eatery, we pointed to what we wanted, a sampler dish of Tabulah, Hummus, Babaganush, and pita bread. When the food came there were two plates of food. I indicated I ordered one, but the waiter said one plate was too little food for us. This put us in a difficult predicament. Tell them to take it back and risk offending people who were still preparing some different food. Or just take it and eat it graciously. We ate it and paid extra.
This wasn’t as much as a swindle as a coerced up-sale.
In a country like Jordan, with coins, quite a few places chose to overcharge to avoid giving change. Rounding routinely worked in their favor. In Egypt as well there was rarely “change”. If a larger bank note was supplied, there would be no smaller note. They would smile and say thank you: “There is no change…..”
Lost in translation
Not being able to speak the language provided several difficulties when trying to clarify pricing. 13 became 30, 15 became 50 and so on. If a person had meant to say 13 and stated 30, and we didn’t know any better until later and handed them 30. Most of the time they kept the 30 and assumed it was tip. Was this language mix up deliberate or an honest mistake? Regardless it was something, especially in this region, we had to be wary of.
In Aswan we had to take a boat to the temple of Philae. Although we tried to talk with other families going to make the trip more efficient, the boat drivers insisted on taking individual parties separately rather than filling the boat to capacity. This meant that our family of four took a boat that could have fit twelve people. Moreover, even though the posted price was 175EGP, we were told: “Well 175 was for the boat, you also have to pay for the driver.” We also had to be clear that this was the round trip cost, and not the one way cost.
Baksheesh culture and tipping in Egypt
This aspect of visiting Egypt was particularly exhausting. Many times the smallest of gestures were followed by an expectation of payment:
“Look over there, tip please”
“Would you like to sit? Tip please”
“Can I take your picture for you? Tip please”
“Come here, I’ll show you something special. Tip please”
“Let me turn the water on for you, tip please”
“You washed your hands, let me hand you a piece of tissue. Pay me”
“I took your picture, now pay me for my service”
On the one hand a portion of people may have been legitimately trying to add value to our experience and wanted money for that. Other may have just been trying to get more money out of us by doing things that we wanted to do for ourselves.
Bathrooms at the monument sites were especially problematic. Prices were high to get in, definitely comparable to monument prices in the USA. However these prices represented at 30-40% increase from last year. And a HUGE amount more than what Egyptians paid (For example 180EGP for entry versus 7EGP for entry). Then if we needed to use the bathroom, someone would appear asking for a tip. “Is there a cost to use the bathroom?” “As you like, a little something for me.” The few times I used it I tipped a pound and the person became offended that I tipped so little for the privilege to walk by them to use the bathroom. This was confusing. Either the bathroom was free or it was not. Why couldn’t a portion the entrance fees be used for a living wage? Why demean people with substandard wages so they had to beg for tips in front of the bathroom. Or did they receive a decent wage and were only trying to get ahead based on big tourist dollars.
Access to the sites or portions of the sites was also unclear. Sometimes there would be areas with gate and a person with a key by it. “No access, but if you give me a little I will let pass.” Either the ticket price covered access or not. With so many people eager to bend rules for extra money, it became unclear what the rules were or why they even existed.
It further created confusion between genuine acts of hospitality and people who only wanted to do things for money. I skipped using restrooms and offers of directions, refused using elevators, skipped restaurants, and pretty much every offer for service (which was pretty hard when travelling). I had a strong negative reaction to assigning some arbitrary monetary amount to social niceties. I hated being suspicious of motives (is this person trying to help me, or am I a meal ticket that is being gouged for something I can do myself).
Moreover, making other things problematic was tourist pricing. I don’t mind paying a little more for things. I don’t speak the language in these countries and that makes me slightly higher maintenance. However, after charging anywhere from five to fifty times the locals amount, and then being expected to tip on that higher amount was too much.
Sit down restaurants in Egypt
Although the food was ok in the three places we went to, there was always something that created difficulty. In one place we were given the wrong bill that happened to be a 50% more expensive than our actual meal. In another, we were charged for items that we didn’t order. In another the restaurant went next door bought one portion, split it into two and charged us for two. In another the waiter kept trying to feed me, which was just weird. Stuff like that really tainted the experience and made it difficult to enjoy eating.
Were these cultural differences, outright cheats, aggressive salesmanship, or language barriers? Regardless, it made us more defensive.