A Little Argument… And the Ultimate Compliment

Last updated on June 9, 2010

It a moment that pretty much fully resembled the temper-tantrum two year olds throw, I stamped my foot, emphatically shaking my head at the taxi-driver attempting to charge me fully double the fare I know my ride should cost.

“No, no, no. Ridículo. Yo sé que este precio es absolutamente ridículo!”, I rapidly spit out.

And in English that would be “Ridiculous.  I know this price is absolutely ridiculous.”

Then, with a good-natured grin the taxi driver assures me that this is the standard price. The locals price. Everyone gets charged this price.

Oh, yeah, sure.

I was standing in that exact spot last week and the price was half of his quote.

So I tell him that. And we rapidly trade one-liners back and forth until he lets out a hearty chuckle, gives a thudding slap on the back to the other taxi driver who had fallen all over himself in his haste to run over and witness the gringa argue (that’s me by the way). Then, not even a hint begrudgingly, my taxi driver smiles big and expansively agrees to the correct fare.

With a relieved sigh I switch out of bartering mode and begin chattering away with the two men. Minutes later the man asked me (in Spanish), “So, how many years have you been living in Central America?”

And that’s my moment.

I was pretty proud right then—they thought through my Spanish and my bartering skills that I’d been here for ages! Now I won’t lie and say I’m fluent in Spanish, but these past few months have brought back a good deal of my previous six years of study, and a week of one-on-one study in Xela, Guatemala fine-tuned a bit of the long-lost grammar. Improving my Spanish was also a really key goal while I was here, so to know that with just three weeks left in Central America that I can hold my own in Spanish, that makes me happy :-)

It’s funny though, backpackers here in Central America have either loved or hated traveling with me—and nearly fully based on if they spoke Spanish. Some of the more clueless backpackers were appalled by how much I bartered over the prices—they were readily willing to accept prices with just a wee bit of price haggling, or none at all! The ones with working Spanish though jumped right in and played often played good-cop to my oh-so-awesome bad-cop.

My philosophy: it’s a part of the culture here and the locals are never ever going to sell you something if they’re truly losing money (oh if only I had a nickel for how many times I heard that gem), so why not try on the new culture and dive in!

I’ll be even more honest and admit that I do love a good debate too, so the bartering, though it can get tiring, is mostly good fun. I’ve fully found here in Central America that a good knowledge of Spanish drastically drops the prices of everything from taxi rides to souvenirs. I’m ok with paying a modestly more expensive gringo price for things—everyone’s entitled to a profit, right?!—but it’s getting fully ripped off that just grates.

And many times, once I get a fair price I’ll bump it back up to the last amount as a tip because sometimes it’s just about knowing that they’re willing to not totally rip you off. Such was the case with the cabbie; for his good humor in the situation he got a decent tip and my gratitude. And for the comment about my Spanish? Well he got a hug for that one!

32 thoughts on “A Little Argument… And the Ultimate Compliment”

  1. Nice to read your experience. I've recently started learning Spanish. It is true that irrespective of which geography you are in, all locals appreciate your effort if you try to communicate with them in the local language. :)

    • I would say that is pretty true everywhere – locals will get *incredibly*
      excited if you know even a little bit and make an effort to communicate.
      Only place I found this wasn't true was in Paris, everywhere else though,
      amazingly receptive :-) Enjoy learning Spanish and get out there and speak
      it with locals, you learn so much faster!

  2. I love it! One of the biggest compliments I received was from a man at a store in Sicily, who said, after wrinkling his brow and talking to me for a few minutes: “Wait … you … you aren't Italian, are you?” He was completely confused by my accent (I've been speaking Italian since I was very little), and if I've only said a few words to someone, they can't tell where I'm from.

    My Spanish is absolutely embarrassing, but I would be delighted beyond all belief to travel with a seasoned Spanish-speaker like yourself. And I love to haggle. Everywhere I go, I haggle (yes, even stores where you shouldn't haggle). My husband hates it. :)

    • I am so glad that someone else backs me up on the haggling! I really do
      enjoy it immensely :-) As for the Italian – go you on having a nearly
      natural second language! I studied in North Italy (Bergamo) for a semester
      but now my Italian is now like your Spanish – absolutely embarrassing!

  3. Great story, Shannon! It's clear that knowing Spanish well is a very good skill to have in Central America.
    And you're right to feel proud about almost being thought of as a local! :)

    • Thanks Maria, I think that I would even go so far as to say that it's
      necessary to have Spanish if you want to go off of the tourist path at all!

  4. Awesome! Congrats on getting them to give you the right price! I am totally excited for you on being adopted in!

  5. Awesome compliment, good work Shannon :-D

    I don't mind the foreigner tax they put on if it's reasonable, but 100% extra is a piss take, the lying annoys me more too 'this is what the locals pay' is a line that reduces their tip.

    • Thanks Rob! (and sorry for the uber late reply!) I agree that the foreigner
      tax is ok – everyone is entitled to a profit, but I cannot take a 100
      percent markup either! :-)

  6. Good for you Shannon. I wish I had a language under my belt to truly be mistaken for an Expat. I think that if there was one language that I would want dive into it would be Spanish. I love the music of the language. You rock girlfriend!

    • Thanks Deb! (and sorry for the uber late reply!) I definitely think that
      Spanish is one of the most handy to have under your belt- perhaps if you
      guys expat somewhere in the future it will be Central/South America! :-)

  7. Being mistaken for an expat is definitely the ultimate compliment. It's not just the command of the language that makes expats so special, it's their adoption of the culture. In my dad's hometown, a small village in Mexico, there is a gringo couple who started a Rotary project there years ago and have lived there ever since. They visit the U.S., and I remember my dad and I met them once at a restaurant near San Francisco. By then they had been traveling around the States for a while and had their share of adventures to recount.

    What really struck me was that as one of them was talking about an experience they had involving some advanced technology, he said that it was so foreign to “Mexican villagers like us.” It was then I realized that the couple had not only adopted the language, they had adopted the people and their culture as part of their identity. And as you experienced, the local people in turn identify with the expats and view them not as typical gringos, as interlopers, but as one of their own.

    • Wow, that couple sounds absolutely amazing that they have managed to so
      thoroughly adopt a new culture and integrate in with the locals to the point
      where they actually identify and feel a part of all that happens in the
      community. Thank you for sharing your special memory and experience, it
      makes my expat experience that much more special to know that it's really an
      honor for me.

  8. So cool! It's obvious you accomplished that goal of improving your Spanish. I actually like haggling, too. Really want to try it in Spanish now.

    • I can't wait to hear about your own haggling experiences – it's so different
      from how we do business in North America that it's fun to try on new
      situations – particularly in Spanish :-) (and btw, sorry for the uber late

  9. Congrats! That really is a compliment. Personally, I find bartering quite tedious and exhausting (I remember it took about 15 minutes every day to buy a pineapple when I lived in Tanzania and did speak the language.) I should travel with your oh-so-awesome bad cop!

    • Thanks for weighing in (and sorry for the uber late reply!). I totally get
      where you are coming from about getting frustrated by so much bartering – as
      much as I really do love it most of the time, those moments hit where I just
      want it to be easy once in a while! We would make a great cop team though

  10. That would definitely put a smile on my face for the rest of the day! And definitely would have garnered you some respect amongst those taxi drivers!

    I was once asked for directions in Paris by a French guy, and I told him, in French, that I didn't speak French. I must have perfected my accent on that one sentence after six years of high school language classes, because he didn't believe me! Hilarious.

    • Thanks for stopping in Megan (and sorry for the uber late reply!) I think
      it's fantastic that he thought you were lying by using your high school
      French – I traveled in Paris and they definitely don't go easy on you so you
      must have dome something right :-)

    • Thanks Akila! (and sorry for the late reply!) It really is such an honor to
      be told that you don't stick out like a sore thumb by being called an expat


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