Sunday, 16 October 2016

Colombia's gringo tax

One of the most frustrating things non-natives, especially Westerners, in Colombia (and other similar countries) have to put up with is the arbitrary 'foreigner tax'. This is basically the additional cost put on to a host of goods and services simply because we're outsiders. The mentality behind it is that we can afford it and/or won't know that we're being charged extra than those in the know.
Yet another place that makes a distinction between Colombians & foreigners ...
Rip off Colombia (if you're a foreigner) ...
For many tourists, short-term visitors and some long-termers here, both of those beliefs hold true. If you think the price you have to pay is reasonable, cheap even, fair enough; ignorance being bliss and all that. Although, it must be said that this 'clandestine overcharging' is a betrayal to the oft-heard line that 'Colombians are the friendliest in the world.' When it comes to money, some — but not all thankfully — are a little two-faced.

Now after five years of having Colombia as my base — and earning a modest amount of Colombian pesos I hasten to add — I've learnt, slowly, to always ask the price of something before committing to buy. Yet, at times the guard is dropped.

One of the most frequent of times this erratic pricing happens is when you enter a bakery, or panadería as it's called in these parts, for the first time. In your bog-standard panadería, the price of a perico — a small coffee with milk — generally ranges from $700 to $1,200 COP. So there have been occasions, even to this day, where I've not bothered to ask the price before ordering. This opens the door for a little inflation and very often the person at the till isn't shy about seizing that opportunity.

Even worse, in recent weeks I started checking out panaderías in the barrios close to my new abode. For the four or five I 'inspected', I was charged a standard price on my first solo visit. In the following days I returned to most of them, this time with a friend, a fellow countryman, and in two of these we were charged more for the same products I'd had on my own.

This isn't exclusive to panaderías; it happens in other restaurants were prices aren't displayed (or at times even if they are), tienda bars and also, unsurprisingly, with taxis; hence my general dislike for most of those yellow parasites. Needless to say it's commonplace with tourism-related things, too.

This short-sightedness is understandable in some ways. For many who do it, they don't see their future being a life on easy street, or 'calle facil' as they might say, so it's 'extract what you can now, to heck with the future.' Yet plenty of places have lost and will continue to lose business and potential loyal customers by engaging in such a strategy. 'Short-term gain, long-term loss.' (It's worth noting here that in the much frowned upon, 'disorganised', neighbouring Venezuela, prices seem to be displayed in almost every café and restaurant, so you can make an informed decision before you commit.)

In further mitigation, Colombia's working classes are more screwed against than screwing (um, in some contexts anyway). Indeed, in other areas 'el extranjero', the foreigner, is treated much better. Just one example of that is in the world of film/TV extras where a foreigner can up to eight times more for doing the same work.

This horrible inequality, however, is not our fault. What's more, the foreigner who is willing to socialise in popular barrios is giving a greater endorsement of a now somewhat safer, less divided country than most more well-off Colombians.

Thus, to the 'price inflators', you would do well to remember that not all Westerners come heavily laden with euros, dollars, pounds or whatever. We're here to contribute, hopefully in a positive way, so don't push us out.

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