Straight Lesson #11- Foreign Taxis

The absolute worst part of any vacation abroad is getting out of the airport when you land, provided that they don’t have a decent public transit system. Thank you Amsterdam for taking care of that in epic fashion! Sometimes worse things happen to you during your trip, but those things are unexpected.  On every trip you take you’re going to have to deal with exiting the airport, unless you’re some kind of weirdo that just likes visiting airports.

You will be hustled and get the run-around and there isn’t anything you can do about it.  You think going to an official taxi stand is the way to go, well not always.  You think taking a ride from someone dressed really well is a smart move, well not always.  Last time I was somewhere dodgy was last week when I was in Buenos Aires.  I checked out the ride situation.  There were several people trying to get me into their cars but I didn’t commit at first.  I noticed that well over half of the cars out there were black and yellow Radio Taxis.  I figured they were probably the most honest ones out there, so I took them.  They probably were the most honest but they still ripped me off shamelessly.  The lesson I learned from them: always have small denominations to avoid relying on them to give you change.  They never have change.  Even if you see the exact change in their hand, they’ll lie and tell you that’s not really money, it’s lottery tickets or Kleenex or some shit like that.

Don’t be fooled by any driver with a crucifix or rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror.  It’s doesn’t mean they won’t financially rape you.  Don’t buy it if there’s a plastic Jesus or Virgin Mary on the dashboard.  Those Saint cards that look like baseball cards on the visor doesn’t mean that the driver is a Christian and won’t break any of the Ten Commandments just to get a few extra Pesos out of you.  There is no God in a Third World taxi.

First and foremost when getting into a cab in a country where you don’t speak the language is to not let the cabbie know that you don’t know the language or where you’re trying to get to.  Know the destination of where you want to go and how to pronounce it correctly.  Even if you don’t know any other words in that language, know how to say, “take me to so-and-so please.”  The first time I went to Australia I told the driver I needed to get to Clovelly beach.  I pronounced it “Claw Velly” instead of “Cloe Velly” and forty minutes later I was where I needed to go.  It wasn’t until days later when I took a cab back to the airport that I realized how close those two places are to each other and how horribly the driver had ripped me off by taking the most scenic route possible.  I think we were somewhere near Ayers Rock for a while.  So say the destination correctly and hopefully your bluff will work.  A good follow-up step is to take out your cell phone and pretend like you’re talking to someone the entire time you’re in the cab.  That keeps the driver from asking you questions and accidentally discovering that you’re completely full of crap.  If you don’t want to keep up that charade then put headphones on and ignore the driver if he tries to talk to you.

If there are tolls to pay en route pay them yourself as you go through them.  Often times the driver will tell you that he’ll take care of it and you can just add it to the fare at the end.  “Wow, that’s was nice of him” you’ll think!  Bullshit!  Keep your eye on the sign on what they charge.  You will be charged at least ten times that when it comes time to pay the guy.  He’ll explain it by making up some crazy excuse like the “Driving an Aries on a Thursday following a New Moon” surcharge.

When you finally get to your destination he’ll try to get you one last time, or take it upon himself to tip himself.  Put up some resistance to keep at least some of your money but don’t create a bad scene that could turn dangerous.  The old trick of showing him your empty wallet works.  Turn those pockets inside out and translate the phrase, “You can’t get blood from a stone.”  It’s frustrating and infuriating, and you’ll feel completely useless/helpless but at least you’re where you need to be and  the nightmare is over.

When getting back to the airport you can play it just right and not be screwed over too badly.  You want to tell the driver that you’re in a hurry but not too much of a hurry.  If he think you have plenty of time then he’ll go down random streets and purposely get stuck in traffic, or worse, fill up with gas while the meter runs.  That’s when all of a sudden all four tires need to be filled with air and the oil needs to be changed.  He’ll drag that drive out as long as possible and take you for as much as he can.  If you tell him that you’re in a big hurry however, he’ll try to charge you for some sort of expediting fee that doesn’t exist at all.  He’ll say he can get you to the airport in time for your flight but he’ll need extra money because he’ll be breaking all sorts of speeding and traffic laws.  It’s a fine line and you need to know how to walk it.  To avoid the gas station detour, check his tank before you get in, that way you know and he knows that you’re not a complete schmuck.  Go ahead and take out your air pressure gauge and check the tire pressure as well.

If you must talk to the driver, tell him that his city is your favorite city you’ve ever been to.  Tell him the food is wonderful, their local sports team is the best, and the girls are beautiful.  This might make him happy but it won’t stop him from doing that thing he can do to the meter to make it charge faster.  I thought that was an urban legend until I saw a guy do it, again in Argentina.  He did something weird with some wires under the hood and I didn’t think anything of it.  By the time we got to the airport it read 340 Pesos on the meter when it was only 150 going the other direction from the same spot.  Only 8 of those 340 Pesos were wasted at the gas station as he let the gas slowly drip into the tank.  Some cabbies rig their meters so that they flip for an eighth of a mile every time they perform a certain operation, like a turn signal or flashing their brights.  I know, pretty brilliant!  Now I know why my guy kept running the windshield wipers!

Forget all about the NYC Taxi Customer Bill of Rights.  Those don’t exist anywhere but New York.  And don’t get your hopes up of stumbling into Cash Cab Bogotá, it doesn’t exist.  Ben Bailey won’t be giving you money as you get taken around town.  There will be no Red Light Challenge.  Street Shout Outs would probably be a bad idea anyways.

So 99% of the cab drivers you come across, especially in poorer countries will try to take you for all that you have.  It’s going to happen so just don’t let it ruin your holiday.  It’s inevitable.  It will suck and even though you know it’ll suck, you’ll still complain while it’s happening exactly how you knew it was going to happen.  Just suck it up, get through it, and get on with your holiday.  It’s smooth sailing after that, until the cab ride back to the airport.

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15 responses to “Straight Lesson #11- Foreign Taxis

  1. Mediterranean countries are every bit as bad. Cabbies in Italy, Spain, Greece will screw you at every opportunity. Grrr…

    • I can’t remember if the car I took out to your place in AMS was honest or not. I was probably not sober so who knows, or really cares? Coming back to Texas anytime soon? I have a house now, plenty of room for your whole clan. Oh, and I’ve hung out with Mike McW here in NYC, he lives here now.

  2. Yes, have to agree.. the most nail biting part of any journey abroad is the taxi ride to the hotel…. doesn’t matter where it is (I am sure Manchester/London would be just as bad)… I have spent endless time figuring out other options of getting to the hotel other than using airport cabs, Rio de Janeiro being an example I remember most vividly.. perfect ride but had to walk about 10 blocks next to the local favela to get to my destination.. which one is worse? taxi rip off or possible violent encounter? Lived to tell the tale anyway!!

    • true karla, very true. Having Martin in the cab seems to help. He seems to know every cab driver in England. Hope to see you on May 15th- I’ll be there for the Tottenham game!! that’s the beauty of game day from Lime Street to Anfield, you can always find other people to share the ride with so it ends up being very cheap.

  3. OK, the little “cash cab Bogota” bit was brilliant. Funny shite Brian!

  4. Thanks Autumn, I think i may have to put some excerpts from our Italian holiday up here, if it’s not going to embarrass any of us. I’ll have to reread and see! I still don’t think I’m ready to even mention our curse in New Zealand. it hurt just writing that last sentence.

  5. worst taxi drive/ripoff ever was in Italy. not surprising that we actually got pick-pocketed there, too (not me, but someone in my crew. I am way too ridiculously cautious to get pick-pocketed…. knock on wood). not fun

  6. The truth is, no matter if you know the language, cabbies will still try to rip you off if you ever so slightly indicate you might be an out-of-towner. That can happen to you in Hungary or Greece just as easily as in Germany or Sweden.
    I try to check for major roadworks in the city I’m about to visit, so I can casually ask “oh, are they still working on this-and-that street?”, which hopefully gives the allusion I’m just returning ‘home’ from a shorter trip.
    And in Europe, with all the international companies opening all over the place, not knowing the language doesn’t actually mean anything. For a cabbie, it’s difficult to make out if your English is an indication you are a US visitor on your very first trip to said city/country, or if you have worked for ages in an international company smack right down the center of the said city, just never bothered to actually learn the language in question.
    You can always wing it!

    Of course, there are cabbies that will bend over backward and work overtime to rip you off. My rule is: if he breaks a sweat while trying to rip me off, I consider it money earned! 😉

    • Very true and good advice on checking up on major roadworks. But yeah, it’s the same anywhere. It’s always a good feeling when you can call them on it though. I lived in NYC for over ten years and even now when I take a cab from the airport into the city I know straight away if they’re trying to get a little something extra. It’s great when I can call them out on it right away.

  7. Great read!

    What happens if you try to negotiate with them, or refuse to pay the full amount?

    • I have no idea about negotiating. I’m sure in some places you can get away with it but I just wouldn’t want to risk it. I hate to concede to getting ripped off but in the long run it’s just easier to suck it up and let them have a few more bucks than to create a situation that might ruin your trip or get you dropped off in a dangerous neighborhood. You never want to piss off the wrong people. That’s why I accept the fact that they’re going to take me for a ride, literally and figuratively, every time I get into a foreign taxi. If you know that going in and just accept the inevitability, it doesn’t hurt as much 🙂

  8. I can’t even read past the part where you expected change from a Taxi driver in BA……they will give you counterfeit money MOST of the time….I could have told you not to do that….
    Ok…I will keep reading, but I HAD to say that!! Ugh

  9. Alan P. Bloebaum

    It’s been a while since I flew into airports in foreign countries, but SPEAKING the language really helps! One ploy I use, that usually works, is to say “Cuanto para ir at Hotel Internacional?/How much to go to the I.H.?” (I speak enough Spanish to do OK.) This requires the driver to set a price IN ADVANCE. Then I ask, “Esto is el total?/This is all?” I get a firm committment from him. Again, it helps if the driver KNOWS you know the language and that you won’t take any bullshit about extra costs, etc. from him.
    I plan to fly to Israel later this year, and since I’m going with a tour group, I hope that transportation from the airport will be taken care of. However, I’ll need to get BACK to the airport on my own. I AM learning some essential Hebrew, to follow you advice about knowing how to ask for your destination. Too, I’ve thought about maybe wearing a yarmulke/kippah. I love Israel and have some great haverim/friends there, so I might wear my IDF shirt and cap. Another hint: Try to look as little like a tourist as you can. Stay away from flowery shirts, big cameras, etc. A plain shirt, hiking boots, etc. help you blend in better. So, Shalom v’ lehitra’ot/Peace and goodbye.

    • I will learn and memorize that phrase. Thanks for the excellent tip!

      • Alan P. Bloebaum

        Oops…..I goofed on the Spanish: It should read, “Quanto para ir AL Hotel Internacional?”, with “AL” meaning “to the”. Other great words to know in Spanish that might come in handy when dealing with cabbies or with a-holes in general: CabrON; Culo, pindejo (pronounced “peen day ho”. Look them up in a Spanish-English dictionary….they’re IN there!

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