Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Expats and tourists in Spain UNITE!

One of my biggest gripes about being a foreigner in Madrid is the way some unscrupulous taxi drivers, waiters, and bartenders try to squeeze extra money out of tourists (and expats who they assume are just tourists). Sometimes there’s nothing sneaky about what they do, such as when a waiter perceives that you’re American, British, German, etc. and thus suggests the most expensive wines or tells you to order bottled water instead of tap water (agua del grifo; it’s actually quite good in Madrid). But there are others who just outright cheat or lie, assuming that you don’t know any better.

I’ve had several Madrid taxi drivers take off in the wrong direction, assuming I don’t know the correct way to get to my own apartment. I’ve had others try to charge me extra because it was a Sunday, or because I had a suitcase, or because they just assumed I wouldn’t realize they were tacking on 5 euros to what showed on the meter. I now make a point of giving taxi drivers in Madrid as much information as possible when I enter the cab (e.g., saying my destination as well as some extra information on which Metro station it is near or the best route to get there) and I always stare at the list of fares and supplements so they don't bother trying to invent new ones.

A couple other recent examples from restaurants and bars in Madrid:

I had dinner at Di Creazione, a casual Italian restaurant located down the street from its considerably more expensive sister restaurant La Creazione on Calle Ventura de la Vega. Throughout our meal, we watched as blond-haired tourists (particularly those middle-aged and older, who would presumably have more money) would walk in, ask for a table, and be escorted down the street to the more expensive restaurant. As soon as they set foot in the door, the older of the two waiters would say to the younger, “Arriba! Arriba!”, meaning “Take them upstairs..” (to the more expensive restaurant). An Australian girl sitting in Di Creazione also had to send her bill back because they had charged her for three coffees and several shots of limoncello, none of which she had ordered or consumed. We made sure to double-check our bill and warned a table of British diners to check theirs as well.

This weekend I went to a flamenco bar called Clan on Calle Ribera de Curtidores. We asked for two cañas (small glasses of beer). First of all, the waiter responded to us in English – something that always irks me when we have spoken to them in Spanish. Then he showed up with two dobles (double-sized beers that are obviously more expensive than cañas) that had been watered down. When we asked for the bill, they not only charged us for two dobles, but they inflated the price. We argued with them, first on the point that we had asked for cañas and not dobles. They tried to say that the cañas only exist for the menu del día. Funny, because several Spanish people in the place had normal-sized cañas, and it was 7 pm on Saturday night -- definitely not menu del día time… They then tried to argue with us over the price. We finally just paid (it was about 1 euro more than it should have been for two dobles -- but it's the principle of the matter!), and we vowed never to go back.

More importantly, we've decided to start a campaign against bars, restaurants, and other establishments that try to take advantage of foreigners in Madrid. If any of you have been mistreated, cheated, or otherwise wronged at a bar or restaurant in Madrid, let us know. We will publish your story on here, so other expats and tourists can avoid these places. Foreigners should be able to walk into any establishment in Spain and receive the same service and the same prices as Spanish people do. I am sick of constantly having to argue over incorrect bills at restaurants or changing prices of drinks just because I am not Spanish.

And, please, if anyone does try to cheat you, let them know that you’re onto them. They often cheat you out of as little as 50 centimos, so it’s clear that part of the thrill for them is just knowing that they’ve fooled a foreigner – so don’t let them! Always check your bills at restaurants in Spain, don’t let them pressure you into a more expensive meal or wine you don’t want, ask to see the price list for drinks, and let them know you’re not a stupid foreigner!


Grouch said...

Hola!..congratulations on a wonderful
blog! Insightful, funny and best of all extremely helpful. Wish you and it were around when I started out in Spain 2 years ago working in the same industry. Worthy of one of those premuium urls..hope things work out for you. I'm beyond rehabilitation!
Good luck!

eslhell said...

Thank you, grouch! I started it to help others avoid the same mistakes you and I both apparently made... :)