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!