Vere You Vant To Go?
January 5, 2010 2:41 PM   Subscribe


Figure it out? Yes, of course...the "paid in full in advance" part. I'll bet you can also guess what happened when I finished shopping...My taxi driver was nowhere to be found.

Well d'uh
posted by mattoxic at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2010

I travelled to Thailand and took the overland route to Siem Reap that goes through Poipet on the Cambodian side. Poipet is a shithole where you don't want to be caught overnight, but this overland route is sufficiently busy that a taxi industry exists just to ferry people from Poipet to Siem Reap (about a four hour drive). The Cambodian government legislated the rate at $45 USD, just because of tourist complaints, but when we got to the taxi depot, we were told $60 or go back to Thailand.
posted by fatbird at 2:52 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I walked into this one: I got out of the Metro in a part of Paris that I didn't know. I was late for a meeting, so I just jumped in a taxi and gave him the address. He drove a kilometer or so down a boulevard, did a U turn and drove back, dropping me off exactly where he picked me up, right in front of the address I gave him.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:57 PM on January 5, 2010 [18 favorites]

I got ripped off by a tag-teaming cabby and rental car clerk in Pisa/Lucca. Since the car rental side involved credit card companies I had some recourse (and satisfaction) there, but that fucking cabbie is still sitting on a pile of Euros. I hope a chunk of the Lucca wall collapses on the fucker.
posted by COBRA! at 3:00 PM on January 5, 2010

"Assuming that your life was not seriously threatened..."

Pretty big assumption some places.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on January 5, 2010

In China, the Tea Ceremony is also a scam. Variations abound, but this one got me in Shanghai a few years back. I only ended up being out about $60, but I've gotten tons of mileage out of the story.
posted by jquinby at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the US, the most common one is the "Oh, I don't have any change" scam, although it's falling out of favor as more cabs are equipped with credit card scanners.

Was it The Whelk who got a free (or nearly-free) cab ride here in San Antonio because the driver didn't have any change and refused payment? Our drivers are the nicest in the world.
posted by muddgirl at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2010

(from the 'taxi' link)
This is a third-world warhorse. You see, over there, in the face of overwhelming poverty, everyone is on the take. Rickshaw drivers, travel agents, hotel waiters: all of them have connections, and all receive commissions for steering you to the "right" place, never mind where you actually want to go.

Charming. Becasue simply living in or around poverty means that ethics are abandoned, and every single person you meet while travelling in these countries is out to get you. This is exactly the kind of pig-headed attitude that makes travellers treat every local like a theif, and does nothing to help those of us who want to have an interaction with people beyond a taxi ride and a drinks order.

Also, being overcharged for a taxi isn't a scam. The whole point of bargaining is that both parties agree on a price they're willing to pay and accept. If it's too high to pay, then don't pay it. If you do, you accept the price.
posted by twirlypen at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

My favorite is the one where they become a major world power, totally disregard your nation's economy, make lucrative deals with dictators, tolerate you until you rival them, and then overwhelm you with military might backed by righteous indignation.

I fall for that one every time.
posted by koeselitz at 3:22 PM on January 5, 2010 [40 favorites]


So true, and the amounts in dispute equal 30 or 40 cents- I hate it when someone gets all indignant and colonial over such a trifling amount.
posted by mattoxic at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

[This is not to say that Joe Mbikulai on the street in Nigeria is just peachy-keen and totally moral for pulling a 419 on the evil Americans - he's still to blame, and ethics swings both ways. I just feel wary every time I see a celebration of foreign scamminess all in one place. Look at the wogs!]
posted by koeselitz at 3:25 PM on January 5, 2010

In China, the Tea Ceremony is also a scam. Variations abound, but this one got me in Shanghai a few years back. I only ended up being out about $60, but I've gotten tons of mileage out of the story.

Variations of this are both the most common and, strangely, the easiest to fall for. Even seasoned travelers who've seen variations of this get screwed. I feel they would get more business with this scam if they kept prices more moderate so that fewer people would realize they were scammed.

Becasue simply living in or around poverty means that ethics are abandoned, and every single person you meet while travelling in these countries is out to get you.

It doesn't mean they've abandoned ethics. It just means they have different standards for ethical behavior. Taking advantage of social niceties and a person's willingness to please and be friendly in order to steer them towards a store to make a sale is considered unethical by many of us. But for other's it's just part of making a living. Not counting the tea ceremony/bar scammers and taxi drivers who are duplicitous with prices, they're not "out to get you"-- they're just trying to make a buck and drum up business for their employers. But you have to realize that and realize that everything is just about business to them. They're not suggesting a restaurant/bar/hotel because they're trying to be friendly and helpful about introducing you to their city, they're doing it because they are trying to make a buck. There's nothing wrong with encouraging tourists to stay aware of that.
posted by deanc at 3:27 PM on January 5, 2010

I just returned from a trip to England, and a friend of mine, a cop in London, passed this tidbit onto me. He told me that rape in unlicensed minicabs is a big problem. Sometimes getting ripped off is the least of one's concerns.
posted by inmediasres at 3:29 PM on January 5, 2010

Rape in licensed cabs is a problem, too.
posted by muddgirl at 3:30 PM on January 5, 2010

Also, what's the deal with the title of this post? I don't know how I feel about it.
posted by koeselitz at 3:30 PM on January 5, 2010

koeselitz, I think he has a cousin who "vants to vipe your vindows." We call him the "Vindow Viper," and he actually has a pretty decent window washing rate, if you can put up with his constant phone-calls, alerting you to his location in regards to your home.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2010 [26 favorites]

I think a lot of this is balanced out, somewhat, by arrogant tourists doing their best to deny people what would be considered a pittance back home.

A friend of mine went to India, and went on a four-day camel trek with a bunch of other tourists. It cost $40; $10 a day for an amazing experience that you couldn't get anywhere else, all meals included.

On the 3rd day there was a sand storm, which made the going a bit tough, but that's just part of the experience, right? Well, a couple of the other tourists on the trip came up to my friend, quietly, and told him they were planning on demanding a refund, and that if everyone demanded a refund they could probably get away with it.

Paying through your nose for things while on holiday is par for course. I'm much angrier about airports charging like $10 for 15 minutes internet access, and $13 for a sandwich and coke, than a taxi driver in India trying to make a few extra bucks.
posted by Jimbob at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2010 [39 favorites]


Yeah, come clean with us, Xurando: a Transylvanian cab driver really took you for a ride once, didn't he?
posted by koeselitz at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2010

Paying through your nose for things while on holiday is par for course. I'm much angrier about airports charging like $10 for 15 minutes internet access, and $13 for a sandwich and coke, than a taxi driver in India trying to make a few extra bucks.

Or Melbourne airport where the minimum parking charge is 12 bucks.
posted by mattoxic at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was figuring the bane of travelers would just be this dude but like, wearing cargo shorts and binoculars and tevas.
posted by stresstwig at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

One time, I got a cabdriver who at first seemed like a lovable foreigner, but later it turned out he was just a really awful lounge singer.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:52 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, being overcharged for a taxi isn't a scam. The whole point of bargaining is that both parties agree on a price they're willing to pay and accept. If it's too high to pay, then don't pay it. If you do, you accept the price.

...except that the scams described are well outside the realm of "bargaining" or "agreeing on a price." And yes, being misled into paying too much for a taxi is a scam (though perhaps an understandable one, given the huge disparities in privilege involved).
posted by Rykey at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Beware of taxis in Detroit. For some reason, there is always something suspicious or wrong with them.
posted by mikepaco at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2010

(from the first link) "6. Remember: The Taxi Driver is NOT Your Friend"

I must say, after having to spend $35-50 with tip to get to/from the airport in NYC, spending 45 Peruvian soles ($15.50) for an hour-long trip from Pisac to Cuzco (and he stopped at a vista to take our photo!), I find this quite untrue. Our taxi drivers in Peru were fantastic and cheap. Then again, everyone in Peru was remarkably awesome.
posted by yeti at 3:54 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm always leery of cabs, since I have been ripped off (mildly) both here in the US and abroad. Once or twice in American cities that I was familiar with, I've had cabbies take intentionally circuitous routes, not a big deal, if you let the cabbie know you know what he's doing, it's usually not a problem.

When I was in the Dominican Republic a few years ago, some friends and I negotiated the cost of the trip on a minibus, everyone agreed on the price and we paid up front. It was the sort of deal where they pack an old VW van type vehicle full of people, so no one really pays that much, 50 cents or so for locals, more for foreigners, but still like $3-5. Then when we were about a mile from our destination, the driver claimed we owed him more money and wanted ten times the original price, "or else". "Or else" turned out to be him dropping us off a mile out of town, at night, and loudly cursing us. Fortunately, our hotel wasn't very far from where he dropped us, so no real harm done.

My old roommate and her boyfriend, on the other hand, got driven, by a seemingly licensed cab, to an alley in Mexico City where two guys with knives relieved them of the valuables and left them there. So, there's that.
posted by electroboy at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2010

I was in Turkey once and wanted to go see Ephesus. It was early morning and the cabbies weren't out yet, but there was one guy who seemed to have an early start. He wore shades, was graying at the sides, big without being overweight and had a big waxed moustache (like you see on Turks in movies). He approached us instead of the other way around, which was a little alarming at first, but he was very persuasive. "No other taxi will give you a better deal," he said in surprisingly good English. He told us up front what the price would be and said we could pay it afterward. I was with two other friends and we talked about it and decided to go for it.

We had no clue just how far Ephesus was, but we quickly found ourselves speeding through the countryside. The cabbie was telling us all about his life in Turkey and how it was early in tourist season but he was trying to earn some extra money so he had come out early and was glad we were there and was overall very friendly. Very abruptly though, he told us we were going to take a quick shortcut and pulled off the main highway. We pulled up to a large building and he told us to wait in the cab. He ran inside and out came more Turkish men who were very inviting. He had brought us to a carpet factory he used to work at.

He explained to us that he started when he was younger working in this carpet factory, eventually became manager, but left after he found the money that could be made driving cabs. The new younger manager clearly treated him with deference and did basically what he was told. We were very excited and went inside.

I felt like I was in a National Geographic magazine. We met the young girls who were taking silk cocoons and turning them into thread. Others were working tirelessly with unbelievably nimble fingers on rug weaving. We were even allowed to take one of the cocoons (when you shake them, you can hear the dead silkworm inside rattling around). We were brought to the back room.

They closed the doors and started explaining the mechanics of carpet making to us. It was very interesting, but the doors were closed. We were relatively rich young tourists in the back room of a Turkish carpet factory, outnumbered by strong looking Turkish men. And our bags were in the taxi. The cabbie was nowhere in sight. He stayed outside while we went into the building. When they opened the doors again to bring us some samples of the types of carpets they were talking about, I caught a glimpse of outside and couldn't see the cab. I couldn't tell if it and our persuasive driver had left us or if we had simply parked in a part of the front yard not visible from the room we were in.

I felt like the walls were caving in around me. Until, of course, the cabbie and the young manager came into the room to offer us some complimentary apple tea. "A Turkish tradition," they said. "No cost." We went outside and our bags and the cab were still there, parked off to the left of the main entrance. When the driver dropped us at the top of Ephesus half an hour later and told us he would meet us at the bottom, there were no doubts in our minds that he would be there.

In the end, we were so impressed by the free tour and friendliness of our driver that he made almost a 30% tip on what was already a long ride. But I am never going to leave my bags in the cab again.
posted by battlebison at 4:00 PM on January 5, 2010 [70 favorites]

I can't speak to other countries, but this is one of the reasons Americans love franchises; there's an unstated assumption that the prices, like the food, are homogenized and there need not be fear of being ripped off. Bargaining isn't part of the American way.

Personally, I (as an American) like to bargain, and enjoy doing things like negotiating the price of a new car or trying to negotiate down a hotel room charge (or get a nicer room for the same price.) Provided it is done in good spirits, and nobody's being a jerk, it's a lot of fun. This is not a typically American viewport, however.

Having said that, when traveling to India some years ago, I was astonished at how inexpensive everything was (not much of a world traveler, me) and so I didn't bother -- even heavy price gouging was a better deal than I'd get on my best day back home.
posted by davejay at 4:04 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

er, I don't know what an American viewport is, but it's not an American viewpoint, either.
posted by davejay at 4:06 PM on January 5, 2010

muddgirl, yes it was!

Friend of mine has used her iPhone and google maps to mske sure they're not taking the long way to queensl.
posted by The Whelk at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2010

So true, and the amounts in dispute equal 30 or 40 cents- I hate it when someone gets all indignant and colonial over such a trifling amount.

In Egypt I tired of haggling with cab drivers. They would open with £10, I would counter with £5, then we would settle on £8. It didn't seem to matter where we were going. After a long day working in the desert I didn't want to haggle and just said فندق البارون. He said £10 and I said نعم. We got to the hotel, I gave him the £10 note and he gave me back £2 saying "No, it's too expensive".

£2 was about US$0.25.
posted by autopilot at 4:07 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Then when we were about a mile from our destination, the driver claimed we owed him more money and wanted ten times the original price, "or else". "Or else" turned out to be him dropping us off a mile out of town

Preventative scheming: get a good idea of the layout around your hotel (generally not a bad idea), and specify a place a mile beyond your hotel from the direction you are traveling. That way you 1) have the safety of knowing when you're getting close, or if you're being lead astray, 2) if you are threatened to be left off early, you're actually on target, and 3) if all goes well, you could just explain you were mistaken and your hotel is closer than imagined.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:10 PM on January 5, 2010

The whole point of bargaining is that both parties agree on a price they're willing to pay and accept. If it's too high to pay, then don't pay it.

And when party B changes the terms of the bargain once Party A is in no position to do anything about it? Which is frequently the kicker in these scams?

I hate it when someone gets all indignant and colonial over such a trifling amount.

I think the fact that we're dealing with trivial money is in large part exactly why many people get ticked off at this kind of thing. Scamming as a power play, which is never pleasant. You really need the buck fifty, just ask for it. Or offer an exchange that's at least superficially worth it. The scams just degrade both parties.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:10 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the '90s and early 2000s, there was a simple and effective one in Turkey that took advantage of the quirks of the currency. Inflation in Turkey was so bad that the 100,000 lira note was the smallest note printed. As all the bills have pictures of Ataturk on one side and a large number of zeros, it was easy for tourists to confuse the 100,000 lira note for the million lira note for the 10 million lira note. So you hand over a 10 million lira note to pay for 6 million lira cab ride, and a cab driver might perform a little minor slight of hand and hold up a 1 million lira note to make it look like you accidentally gave him the wrong bill. This happened to me once that I caught, at the end of a long, tiring day, and man, did it make me cranky.

But for pretty much every bad cabbie story I have, there's a good one, too - like the cabbie in Baltimore who let me off a $5.00 fare when I got to my destination and found I'd left my wallet at home. I was willing to pay for the round trip fare to go home, get it, and return to my destination, but he waved me off. I didn't even have a couple of bucks in my pocket to at least give him a tip. I'm not much of a believer in karma, usually, but I hope something good came back to him for doing that, because he saved me a lot of hassle on an already aggravating morning.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:18 PM on January 5, 2010

Bargaining isn't part of the American way.

Yeah, I think this drives a lot of these perceptions. I absolutely hate bargaining, I want to see a price up front and make up my own mind, mainly because interacting with strangers makes me very anxious and uncomfortable. This is even worse in a developing country, where I don't really have any idea what anything costs. Combine that with countries with very pushy sales tactics (Jamaica, for example) and shopping is just not very pleasant, which is somewhat unfortunate for both sides --- I don't buy as much as I would otherwise.

On the other hand, those people I do buy from probably get way more money than they expected, as I usually just pay whatever they ask, even in countries where bargaining is the norm (but again, if this is a developing country --- well, the reality is the money difference probably doesn't matter much to me).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:22 PM on January 5, 2010

Preventative scheming: get a good idea of the layout around your hotel (generally not a bad idea), and specify a place a mile beyond your hotel from the direction you are traveling.

Oh certainly, we're all pretty well travelled, but it wouldn't have really helped in this situation. We had told him to let us off in town, for simplicity's sake, and because we wanted to pick up a few things, and our hotel was about a 3/4 mile beyond where we had asked to be dropped. Also, as there was only one real road, there wasn't much question where we were. He was definitely punishing us for not paying up, he told us as much. I'm not sure if he had other plans, but we made it clear that there was going to be trouble if he didn't stop.
posted by electroboy at 4:24 PM on January 5, 2010

I was in Key West once and took a cab from the restaurant/bar where a bunch of us had had dinner back to my hotel (not like Key West is huge, but it was late and I was tipsy). The driver accidentally turned down the wrong one-way street, and so had to go around Robin Hood's barn to get to the street where my hotel was.

He refused to accept payment. It wasn't like it was going to be an expensive ride - 10 bucks or something like that - but he'd made this random mistake (which I hadn't even noticed) and wouldn't let me pay him. It's still weird to me. Nice, but weird.
posted by rtha at 4:28 PM on January 5, 2010

I just flew through Hanoi last week and the cops/military (same thing there) were passing out flyers to the foreign travelers about various cabbie scams.

Had no problems with tuk-tuk drivers in Laos, but the deal is you always agree on a destination and pay in advance. Certain routes (Luang Prabang central to the bus station) have an agreed upon fare for Lao Kip or US Dollars. In Vientiane the cabbies carried booklets with color illustrations of the various temples with prices beneath. Seemed like a pretty decent system in many ways but rule number one is never, ever get into a cab or tuk-tuk without paying first.

Had a much worse time with Thai tuk-tuks for what it's worse. In Bangkok the scam goes like this:

"Temple X/Museum X Please."
"Oh, it's closed today. Let me take you to shop for diamonds and silk!"

Of course they're not closed except on national holidays, but the scam is that if they get you to one of the high-end silk/diamond/gold stores they get free gas. What's funny is that at the time I was a poor college student and the silk/diamond guys could smell the fact that I had no real money to speak of. Cue hilarity when me and my friends are yelled at and kicked out of said store, and store owner charges outside to yank the hose from the back of the fueling tuk-tuk spraying petrol everywhere. Good times.
posted by bardic at 4:37 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

This stuff is interesting, anyway - in case I needed any, here are a whole bunch of new reasons for me never to go anywhere as a tourist.
posted by koeselitz at 4:46 PM on January 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've had thousands of good taxi experiences, and only one or two not so great ones. The not so great experiences were all pretty much my fault, in retrospect -- when you don't listen to your instincts, things don't always turn out great.

At heart, if I am traveling, it's my job to figure out how things work where I am visiting; it's not the job of the locals to accommodate me. Maybe that means bargaining first, or knowing to pay before or after. It's nothing that a glance at a guidebook won't tell you, and these things are usually pretty standard.

(A taxi driver delivering you to a dark alley for a mugging is not a scam -- it's a nasty felony, and is always going to be a risk.)
posted by Forktine at 4:50 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the end, we were so impressed by the free tour and friendliness of our driver that he made almost a 30% tip on what was already a long ride. But I am never going to leave my bags in the cab again.
Turkish people are some of the friendliest, best people I've met while traveling. Absolutely great. But the everyone there is almost invariably tied to a carpet store they're getting kickbacks from. That doesn't mean they aren't friendly and great to hang out with., it's just that opportunities are so poor there that they have to make a living, and the carpet stores pay. And getting tricked into hanging out with a carpet salesman isn't that bad as long as you're the sort of person who doesn't fall for sales pitches. The danger isn't from the carpet salesmen and their agents. The danger is from the people who take you to a bar, hand you a drink, and then the next thing you know, you wake up with no money, passport, or wallet.
posted by deanc at 4:54 PM on January 5, 2010

I caught a cab in NYC headed for Newark airport. Having at one point come very close, we ended up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike watching planes go up way in the distance. The cabbie started crying and turned off the meter.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

If you visit Vegas and take a cab from the airport to your Strip hotel (or nearly anywhere else), do not let the cabby get on the freeway!

One cabby tried multiple times to talk me into letting him drive me from the airport to my house via the freeway, and wouldn't give up until I explained to him that we were going to my house, and I knew how to get there. He laughingly told me that if I were a tourist he could have taken the freeway and gotten another $20 out of me.

He didn't get a tip.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

The most frustrating cab experience I had was hopping into a cab at an Austrian train station with my parents. The cab driver and I spoke in German, him complimenting my grasp of the language (it was conversant, not perfect). The entire time my dad was asking me why the metered fare seemed so high, but I brushed it off, saying he must be looking at the radio dial. When we were dropped off at our location, it was clear he had had the meter running from before he was hired. As in, he arrived at the train station, turned on the meter, 10 minutes later we got in an we were charged for that time. (We later checked in with the tourist bureau, and this was definitely not standard operating procedure) It was at that point that I really understood the limit of my language skills and was pretty upset I had been bought into the compliments. I think we swallowed the extra cost, but my dad was pretty annoyed by the experience for the rest of the trip.
posted by piratebowling at 5:00 PM on January 5, 2010

Oh, sorry that was my most frustrating foreign cab experience, I had a cabby in New York abandon me near the brooklyn-queens boundary when he didn't know how to get where I was going and he had no map to look it up. If it hadn't been for a very nice couple of guys at a gas station, I would have been totally fucked.
posted by piratebowling at 5:04 PM on January 5, 2010

Yeah, I can't really get outraged about this in developing countries. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to live in a developed, western country, and make enough money to be able to travel around the world recreationally; why, again, am I supposed to be angry about being charged a buck or three extra?

I do understand that it's "wrong," especially the example in the Buenos Aires link where some are said to return forged bills, or switch your bills for fakes, and that would certainly annoy me. But the bottom line is, obviously these people need the money if they're going to these lengths to get it.

I'm far more ticked off at being "scammed" by the Coles/Woolworths grocery duopoly in Australia than I would be at being taken on a scenic drive for a few bucks extra on holiday, because the people in those boardrooms are not lacking for anything. I just write off being charged more as my charitable contributions to the population of wherever I'm visiting, assuming it's not an exorbitant amount - which isn't what these links are talking about anyway.
posted by po at 5:07 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Prime example of the condescending American: from the "traveling" link, the blogger starts off by stating "Taxi drivers are bastards. They are born from pure evil and are bound to try and rip you off, while trying to make small talk about the weather and act like your friend." He complains that the public transit stops at the "ridiculously early hour" of 11pm, then gets upset when a ride that would be expensive in America is generally $8.50, but he gets ripped off and charged $13.60 (based on some variable metering system). The caption for the picture in the article: Typical foundation of a taxi in Belgrade: Old Yugo and some shifty guy at the wheel.

Truly, a positive reflection of this exceptional nation.

Yeah, I can't really get outraged about this in developing countries. I am so incredibly blessed to be able to live in a developed, western country, and make enough money to be able to travel around the world recreationally

But it's not just "developing" countries that face an unbalance of market values. From what I understand, Belgrade is quite well developed. But I agree that if you're able to travel with financial ease, and everything is inexpensive compared to the costs in your home country, the reason you complain is that you aren't being treated like locals, which isn't something you want to complain about.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2010

I never have problems in cabs in the major European countries, because I speak their language.
posted by Zambrano at 5:16 PM on January 5, 2010

The only time I've been ripped off by a cabbie it was in my hometown (he took the extra long way - including a stupid detour into a construction zone - to Ontario Place when some friends and I were on our way to a concert). Other than that it's been nothing but good experiences (I'd like to believe it's karmic payback because I always tip well for good service):

- a driver in Sarnia who took me all the way home in the middle of a snowstorm even though I told him as I got into the cab that I only had $5 (I was flat broke at the time) and would get out and walk the rest of the way once the meter hit $4 (this was the early '90s, when $4 could actually get you somewhere in a cab)
- multiple drivers all over the world
- multiple cabbies in Australia who tried their best to refuse tips
- a guy in Toronto who gave me a copy of the CD he was listening to when I told him I liked it
- another guy in Sarnia who got out of the cab and helped me guide my girlfriend (who was so drunk she could barely walk) to the front door

And then there was the night before my wedding...
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:23 PM on January 5, 2010

That should say:

- multiple drivers all over the world who gave great tips regarding accomodation, restaurants, etc.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:24 PM on January 5, 2010

In places where transportation prices are set on the spot, I try to ask locals, "How much should a taxi/bus to X cost?" Most people are happy to help. ("Don't pay more than Y, definitely.")

Even in places with taxi meters, you do get the meter-is-broken line a lot. "OK, then let me out here and I'll find one with a meter that works." Amazing how that fixes it sometimes.

And obviously never flag down a taxi right in front of an expensive hotel. Or say that's where you're going. Please.
posted by gottabefunky at 5:31 PM on January 5, 2010

>>Truly, a positive reflection of this exceptional nation.

Why is this an example of an American acting badly instead of a guy who's just a jerk? He obviously doesn't care for cabbies (and is loathe to use them in San Fransisco even) and takes the time to explain how he was scammed (airport rate), what to look for (numbers on the meter), and how to avoid it in the future (point it out, take reputable cabs).
posted by now i'm piste at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2010

Zambrano: “I never have problems in cabs in the major European countries, because I speak their language.”

Wow... I never realized that. So that language the cabbies spoke in Europe when I was over there - that was Troll?
posted by koeselitz at 5:49 PM on January 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

You guys should ride the taxis in Tokyo. Even the crappiest taxi (kinda of a meaningless comparative because they are all really nice) is like getting limousine service in some other countries. Really expensive, but really nice.

Not that they are all perfect, but they are committed to providing a level of service commensurate with their high prices (more than $5 just to get in) One time, I got in a taxi somewhere downtown, trying to go to the new art Museum in Roppongi. The driver wasn't from that area and had no idea about the new museum, but he tried valiantly to get us there, driving up all these tiny little one way streets and asking people on the side of the road if they knew where it was (This was before GPS.). Eventually, he gave up and called us another taxi. He let us out for free, after essentially giving us a 30 minute free tour of downtown Tokyo. It turns out he had gotten us pretty close.
posted by donkeymon at 5:50 PM on January 5, 2010

We got duped by the Bangkok scam of the closed Grand Palace; we ended up touring around a couple other temples (the tuk-tuk driver would wait while we visited), and at the last one, when we came back, he was gone (he probably scammed other tourists for much more). So we ended up with a free ride around town, which was, after all, a pretty good deal. Next day we did the Grand Palace.
posted by ddaavviidd at 5:53 PM on January 5, 2010

We got a scammy taxi driver going from the old Beijing airport to our hotel. We knew it was a scam, but it was only about a hundred yuan extra so we didn't really care too much or feel like raising a fuss. I took taxis every day in Beijing for nine months after that, with no problems ever. (Well, except the one time we were thrown out for being Americans, but that was in early May of 1999 and not so surprising).

Then on the very last day before going home, I was doing some last minute shopping. I got in the cab to go back to our dorm with my shopping bags full of gifts and trinkets, and the guy started driving without turning on his meter. Then he began trying to negotiate at a rate that was maybe ten times what I knew the metered fare should be. I was too tired to deal with the hassle of getting out and getting another cab, so I reached out and turned on the meter and told him how much it would probably be.

He laughed and nodded that yea, that was probably about right, but then he proceeded to try to haggle with me the entire drive, with me just smiling and laughing at him and saying no, that I would pay what the meter said. As we pulled up to the university gate, he had haggled himself down to 5 yuan more than my initial guess and 5 yuan less than the meter, so I said "deal" and paid him his "negotiated" price. I shook my head in confusion, but he just laughed and thanked me and drove off. So weird. I still wonder about that guy and wth his deal was...
posted by gemmy at 6:00 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"the reason you complain is that you aren't being treated like locals"

I'm happy to settle for "not being treated like a mark."

You'll get no arguments about the pervasiveness of Ugly American Syndrome from me, but it's ludicrous to expect knowledgeable tourists who try to respect local customs to simply bend over and take it, regardless of how outrageous or unfair the various scams are. It's not as if many poorer countries don't benefit directly from tourism, and the burden is on the indivdiual tourist to a) be respectful, b) not be an ass but also c) don't be a sucker.

Globalism is what it is.
posted by bardic at 6:01 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

In Bangkok I and my family were taken by what I'm going to call now The Seafood Scam. It's exactly like the Tea Ceremony Scam, but with seafood. We'd had a friendly took-took driver all day. He'd taken us where we wanted to go (mostly, though the sapphire shop that his friend owns is to be expected, and we knew what the prices should be, so whatever) and finally, I don't know if we asked him to or not but he recommended to us a restaurant that we agreed to go to.

So, we went and it had giant piles of amazing seafood. All of it fresh, all of it awesome. We stood around pointing for a while while a dozen (where were the other patrons? hmm...) Thai girls bustled what we pointed at into the kitchen. We got tiger prawns, lobster, red snapper, some stuff we couldn't identify, and I don't even know what else.

Now that I'm explaining it, it wasn't really a scam, per se... The prices were clearly, though discreetly marked. It was just that with everything else so cheap in Thailand, and with half a dozen conversions to do including estimating weight we stopped keeping track and ended up spending about $300 American. At first we were shocked, but the prices were marked, and we figured it was still a good bit better than what the same meal would've cost in the US. We were on vacation anyway, so we paid it and left.

What confirmed that it was meant to be dishonest, though, was that when we left we found that our driver had called his "cousin" to drive us because he'd had to go "pick up his niece."

But, whatever. I suppose they still all made a pile for what would be workers in what would be minimum wage (if that) positions here, but we still got a good price on amazing food, if not a good price in Bangkok money.
posted by cmoj at 6:03 PM on January 5, 2010

So, this time I got to the airport in LA, late, tired and with not much money in my wallet. This guy at the baggage claim told me he had a friend who could take me to where I wanted to go at just short of what I have on my pocket. So, I headed outside with the guy, he whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said "Fresh" and it had dice in the mirror if anything I could say that this cab was rare but I thought "nah.. forget it, yo home to Bel-Air"
posted by qvantamon at 6:05 PM on January 5, 2010 [10 favorites]

I got screwed by a cab driver for the first time ever in Prague, and it was pretty annoying when I figured out the next day that Point A and Point B were actually very close together and certainly not twice as far as the airport.

But this wasn't nearly as annoying as the party of English tourists my husband and I had the displeasure of accompanying across Dublin on a flotilla of taxis. The opening gambit of the leader of the pack was "Don't let me catch you charging different rates for English people than Irish people, mate."

I was mortified. Rude tourists are so much worse than scammy cab drivers.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:17 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

The link under "Taxi" for ways to avoid being scammed is hilarious, though perhaps only because my main experience with this kind of this was in Dakar. There are no meters, there is no airport information desk, and there are no legitimate taxi companies. Even attempting to follow those rules (asking at the hotel) would result in paying ten times the price. Only good advice was to negotiate before getting in.
posted by Nothing at 6:18 PM on January 5, 2010

I got a taxi once.
posted by Damienmce at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

For every 1 unpleasant/scammy cab ride I have had in a foreign country (and there has only been one, despite a LOT of foreign travel), I have had 100 in New York City, Philly, Atlanta, DC, Memphis, etc. So let's not pretend travel/cab scams are the purview of dirty foreigners, developing nations, or what have you. I am no more offended by a foreign cab driver 'helpfully' suggesting his friend's restaurant than I am by Dannon giving me helpful, friendly advice about a yogurt I might try to support my natural digestive immunities, or the casual 'girlfriends' on the Yaz commercials conversationally suggesting I talk to my doctor about a great birth control pill. To be honest, I'm less offended by the cab driver - at least he's one guy trying to make a living and not a multinational corporation misleading government health overseers.
posted by bunnycup at 6:43 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

We got duped by the Bangkok scam of the closed Grand Palace

Don't forget the Bangkok scam of the discount jewelry stores. It seemed almost impossible to get a taxi in Bangkok that didn't want to take you to a rip off jewelry store. I even had a cop stop me in the street, tell me it wasn't safe in this part of town and put me in a cab back to my hotel -- only to find myself at the entrance to yet another rip off jewelry store -- the third in two days.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:43 PM on January 5, 2010

We were in Turkey traveling to Marmaris and arrived off the bus in the middle of the night pre-season. The cabbie we got tried to find the address we gave him but just couldn't figure out where we were trying to get to.

It was late, we were tired, and he brought us to his brothers shop who just happened to have a villa he could let us stay for the night/weekend if we wanted. We were certain we were being scammed but too tired to fight, though I'm sure we let out annoyance at being scammed show.
Turns out the place was awesome and cheaper than the hostel we wanted to go to.

We tried to find the street and hostel our book talked about afterward and it just didn't seem to exist. Thank you Turkish cabbie.

On the other hand we were scammed quite nicely by the "quote low price on the phone" but claim a higher price when you arrive in person in India.

That's balanced out by my friend who arrived from Banaglore in 2000 who got taken on a hour+ wild ride from SFO to downtown San Francisco via Ocean Beach.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:46 PM on January 5, 2010

davejay: er, I don't know what an American viewport is, but it's not an American viewpoint, either.

An American viewport
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:03 PM on January 5, 2010

One time, I got in a cab, and the driver turned out to be an expert neurosurgeon who'd recently moved across the world.

oh wait.
posted by dnesan at 7:13 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Got taxi scammed in DC. We didn't understand the zone system (and come from a town where taxis are outrageously expensive), so paid $30 for what should have been a $10 ride...then to top it off, tipped him $20.

My buddy has horror stories about pedicabs in India. You negotiate the price before hand, then the pedicab driver takes you somewhere completely different and insists that you pay him more than agreed to, so you have to argue and rage at him to take you where you want to go, so he takes you somewhere else and tells you you owe him even more for the long ride, so you have to go ballistic to get him to take you where you wanted to go...and if you try to abandon him for another pedicab that might take you where you wanted to go, he shouts about how you are a thief and calls for a policeman, so you're stuck with him until he finally gives up and takes you where you wanted to go, but then he still insists that you owe him gobs of money for wasting an hour of your time.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:17 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

For all the international travel I've done, the only time I've been ripped off by a taxi was right in my home town of Atlanta. I had to take a taxi back from the ATL airport to my house after a business trip, and the (metered) fare indicated a distance that was somewhere around double the reality-based distance. In fact, it was pretty easy to determine that the meter was rigged, because most of the trip between the airport and my house is on a highway with well-marked mile markers. I noticed that the meter was racking up somewhere closer to 3.50/mile instead of the 2.00 that it should have, and I called the cabbie out on it, as the difference in fare would have been somewhere on the order of 50 bucks. He caved pretty quickly - my guess is because he figured a local was more likely to make trouble for him than a tourist.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:27 PM on January 5, 2010

deadmessenger: He caved pretty quickly - my guess is because he figured a local was more likely to make trouble for him than a tourist.

You really should have reported him anyway. He'll just scam the next person and get away with it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:36 PM on January 5, 2010

Well, I feel bad about telling another guy's story, but...

A friend of mine went to Venezuela a few years ago. He got a cab and asked the driver to take him to his hotel.

My friend began to notice that the cab seemed to have missed the exit for downtown, was heading into a sketchy looking neighborhood, and further that the cabbie was talking on his cell phone about how he was bringing 'his cousin' and how they would be there soon.

Oh, said my friend, thinking quickly. I have quite a lot of American currency at my hotel that I would like to exchange. Would you be able to help me out? (The official exchange rate being far lower than the 'actual' exchange rate.)

Suddenly the cab turned around and the cabbie told his friend that his cousin wasn't coming after all.

Later, the hotel staff said to only take taxis that they had called, never taxis from the street.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:58 PM on January 5, 2010

Mitrovarr: You really should have reported him anyway. He'll just scam the next person and get away with it.

My original intention was to do just that, but Mrs. Deadmessenger stopped me. She pointed out (correctly) that this guy knew where I lived, and could probably figure out who narc'ed on him.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:04 PM on January 5, 2010

From the "taxi" link:

Upon entering the cab, jot down the cab's registration number and make sure the driver hasn't left any time on the meter. If he has, ask him to turn it to zero. Then, request a signed receipt, specifying pick-up and drop-off points. This will make him think twice about taking any "secret shortcuts," and it will give you more leverage if you're forced to report your driver to the taxi authority. Finally, ask the driver to take you on the cheapest, most direct route. Bring along a map of the area (you can pick up a free copy at any major hotel or car-rental desk) and point the route out to him if he goes astray.

I am trying to imagine how in my own job I would feel if every day I had to deal with people who both (a) made twenty or fifty or a hundred times what I did every year and (b) made it clear from the moment they met me that I was suspected of being a thief and they were wise to my tricks.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:10 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Taxi driving abroad is a game. If I'm picking up on that I'm being scammed, I play the game right back. (This kind of stuff is fun for me, and I'm not recommending it.) 98% of the time, I get great cabbies, and have some great conversation. But there is always a chance you've got into the wrong cab.

The cabbie out for a con sizes you up in seconds. You need to do the same. If you're at an airport, watch the taxi stands for a few minutes. No reason to rush, you're almost to your destination already. Fake a call, have a smoke, whatever. Watch their pickup routines. Even if it's a modern, organized, wait-in line type of deal, the guy at the head of the line who calls out the next cab is the one to watch. See if he acts differently with different types of people; businessmen, tourists, women, etc. If it seems weird, go to another kiosk at a different gate/terminal.

Know the streets and major buildings around your destination, if possible. Rather than saying "3112 Elm Street;" say in a tone that sounds certain, "3100 Elm St, if right between Davis and Main, just off Broadway, over by Memorial Hospital" or some such thing. It gives the impression that you know more than you do about the city, and can stop some cons even before they start. This also gives you time to figure out if the guy is legit, or has his routine and patter down.

As noted before, learn your route beforehand, and keep an eye on the meter.

If, and ONLY if, you're getting the feeling that real trouble is brewing, and you can pull it off, it's better to be the "Angry, Pissed-off Tourist" than the "Ugly, Begging to be a Mark Tourist." Select a ringtone to play on your phone an fake a call. Get angry. Get worked up about some dude that screwed you on some deal and you want to break his fingers with a hammer, or something. Or set up a fake meeting with the local police chief. Get creative, and ignore the driver during the call. If he's conning you, he'll listen in to find out if there's something in it for him. He may think twice about taking the long way this time. This stunt actually saved my ass once.
posted by chambers at 8:52 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm glad you mentioned that deadmessenger, because that changed how I'd get a cab to the airport in Houston. I swear every cabbie is dishonest, and when I got totally scammed once I wanted to just walk out but realized he picked me up at my house, so I was afraid he would come after me.
Now whenever I go on a trip, I park at my workplace, and get a cab from there. I have a safe parking spot, and it is only four minutes from my house. I also am well aware of how much it costs from work to the airport, which is a standard zone fee. I know this will make me sound like a jerk, but I have been lied to so many times, so I now always have the exact zone fee ready in pennies and nickels just in case. If, as is usually the case, we arrive at the airport, and the $33.50 zone has turned into more (it's usually like$42), I pull out $50 and ask for change. Of course they have no change. Then it's the same damn song. I pretend to just notice that the zone on the back of the cab says that it should only be 33.50. The cabbie acts surprised, which pisses me off even more. I tell him that I would have gladly given him a ten dollar tip if he was honest, but instead what he's getting now is exactly 33.50 in pennies and nickels and dump them onto his passenger seat.
I suppose that's nasty of me in some way, but I think it gets a point across. Not everyone is stupid or ignorant of pricing fees. Sometimes I even ask for their name and license number and report them, even though that does no good.
Oh well, sorry to rant. It hit a chord, and every freaking trip to or from the airport is the same thing.
posted by WilliamMD at 9:02 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Then when we were about a mile from our destination, the driver claimed we owed him more money and wanted ten times the original price, "or else". "Or else" turned out to be him dropping us off a mile out of town, at night, and loudly cursing us. Fortunately, our hotel wasn't very far from where he dropped us, so no real harm done.

Funny, I had a taxi driver try this on me and my friend when we were in Morocco. But the way we figured it… well, if someone decides they're going to throw out the rule book, that gives you permission to do the same. If he wants to drive out to the middle of nowhere, that was fine by us. It just meant more miles for him to walk back to town once consciousness was regained after we'd beaten and strangled him half-to-death.

Taxi drivers are really in the worst position to be trying to threaten anyone. Because they have to maintain control of the cab. They can't move around. They can't defend themselves, and they certainly can't attack. They can threaten, and if they have a bunch of bad-dude friends I suppose they can drive you to them, but otherwise they're pretty-much sitting ducks.

Just make sure you either have your stuff on you or if it's in the taxi's trunk, make sure he opens the trunk and isn't sitting in the driver's seat of an idling car waiting for you to exit the cab. The rule is, either the car is turned off or he's getting out with you (the rude fuckers should be doing this as part of the service, anyway, but, well… society going down the tubes, no honor among thieves, kids these days, etc.).

Personally I really enjoyed the bartering aspects of the third world even though it can become mentally, physically & emotionally draining. It's one of the purest forms of market-based capitalism that exists on the planet. Every day is a new test to determine the real worth of something. I remember a guy who ran a shop down the street from one of the places I stayed at while in Indonesia. Every day I'd walk by his shop, every day I'd get a big bottle of soda. Every day. Same brand, same flavor, same size. And every fucking day was a new negotiation. Yesterday's transaction (and discussion) have zero bearing on today's. Some days I think I paid about 8,000 rupiah. Other days it was 10,000. It all depended on how much we each felt like playing the bargaining "game" that day. Since it was his job he was naturally much better at it than myself.

Anyway, I remember one day I'd had enough of it. We were going back and forth, when I just got sick and tired of the bullshit.

Him: Ten-thousand rupiah!

Me: No. Look, I paid 8,000 for it yesterday, which is basically the same price I've been paying every day for the past week. So no more bargaining. I'll give you 8,000, you'll make a good profit, I'll have my soda and we can get through our days a little faster.

Him: OK, OK. You get best price, 8,000 rupiah my friend.

Me: Thank you. Excellent. It's so damned hot I'll probably drink the whole thing before I've left the store. [Wipes drenching sweat off forehead.]

Him: Yes, very hot. [Hands me a large, warm bottle of soda.]
Oh, did you want a cold one?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:04 PM on January 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

This is a pretty awesome thread. I love these stories.
posted by empath at 9:36 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I lived in a relatively popular tourist destination for a while, and I wonder how much of the tourist scamming behaviour is direct retaliation at being treated like a zoo animal for a significant amount of time. I lived in a beachside community that mostly attracted other Australians, with a liberal smattering of European backpackers and Japanese tourists, and the way that many tourists think nothing of disregarding the lives of the locals and expecting accommodating behaviour from people just trying to live is astonishing. And I'm not that exotic to someone from my own country. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to be considered a "quaint or colourful local".
posted by Jilder at 9:39 PM on January 5, 2010

Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.
posted by koeselitz at 9:46 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to add another happy helpful cabbie story:

I'm visiting DC for a week of interviews, and I get out of the Metro at what I *think* is supposed to the stop for my destination, Federal Triangle. Well, no, I was supposed to get off at Federal Center SW, which is not really so close.

So, it's steamy and hot, I'm in a suit from the last interview, and I'm wheeling my luggage over pebbly sidewalks for a few blocks when I realize that I'm at least 10 blocks from where I'm supposed to be. Frustrated, I hail a cab and jump in.

About <2 blocks later, waiting for a light, I realize that I have NO cash, and the driver doesn't take credit cards. So, I explain the situation to him, and say I need to get out. He says, "Don't worry about it." and just takes me to destination for FREE. (!!)

He won't take my ~$5-$7 in leftover metro fare, which is the only cash-like currency I have on hand. I ask him if he wants me to stop at an ATM, and still he says not to worry.

In the midst of my interview-haze, I managed to thank him profusely, and scribble his taxi number down on a receipt so I can send him some money later, or at least see if I can commend him to a supervisor or something. Sadly, I lost the receipt, and I never got a chance to do that. :/

I thought I had good fortune when a NYC bus driver let me ride for free (another tale of misplaced money and summertime luggage-carrying) -- this DC experience topped that -- this cab driver was seriously above and beyond awesome.

(thanks Mr. Awesome Cabbie, wherever you are! You really made my day/week/month/beyond!)
posted by NikitaNikita at 10:15 PM on January 5, 2010

In Nairobi, in my fast-receding days as an expatriate, the role of cabs oscillated between entertainment and mortal danger. They were seldom scammers; they were merely trying to milk me for all they could. They were fairly upfront about it, and more power to them.

The compromise I made with myself was to pay something that approximated what I would have paid at home in Toronto, which was still half of what they'd ask for. This left them well-compensated and me with my own dignity intact. As long as everything was agreed upon beforehand, there was seldom any trouble.

What still strikes me most is the disintegrating nature of the city's taxi fleet in those millennial years. Never mind that the taxis didn't have metres there. Some of them didn't have dashboards. One was missing its ignition; the driver hopped in and cheerfully hot-wired it. Then there was the taxi whose starter was shot, so the driver had to keep the car careening through the city without stopping lest it stall and not start again. There was the taxi that died at the top of a long hill on a major road by the embassies. The driver said, "one sec!," hopped out into traffic, pulled out some kind of hose, and started sucking on it. I handed him some cash and walked the rest of the way.

There were only a couple of bad experiences. After a late night at the club, one driver decided that the pre-arranged fare wasn't sufficient after we arrived at my compound. I wasn't inclined to renegotiate, and in the confusion that followed, he released the brake as I got out of the car and pinned my heel under the back wheel. (My bargaining tactic immediately shifted to hollering like a banshee, which got results with some speed.)

And there was the cabbie in the middle of the night in Dar es Salaam who loaded a goon into the backseat, then added ten thousand shillings to the fare halfway through the ride. Ten thousand shillings! I demurred, seething. Once the lack of set prices and never-ending haggling forced me to internalize a sense of price and value, of fair and unfair, of right and wrong, cheaters drove me bonkers. I had him take me to the hotel, which had private security, and pulled a runner. (He followed me in, and told the desk clerk I'd ripped him off. Eventually I gave him a small sum to make him go away.) It was so silly. The ten thousand shillings I'd endangered myself for? Nine dollars American, on the expense account.

Finally, things settled down when I became a regular with a cabbie in Nairobi who worked at a cab rank near where I lived. His name was Josephat and his cab was named Superfly. It was ratty and smoky but it worked. He was saving up to buy it from its extortionate owner. We talked about work and health and gender relations in our respective societies (he took a dim view of mine; I took a dim view of his). We were friends, and that worked out okay in the end.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:54 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yea, I have a Friendly Cabbie story too; I sprained my ankle last year, and was just terrible at getting around on crutches. I bummed lifts to and from work most days, but Friday evening everybody left work before I did, so I caught the bus home. I got off the bus about six blocks from my house (in the city centre), and couldn't be bothered walking (arms so tired!) so hailed a cab. When we got to my place he told me not to worry about the fare. Sure, it was only six blocks and he was probably still en route to the taxi stand he'd been heading to - but it was a really nice gesture and cheered up my whole day.
posted by jacalata at 11:30 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

On our holiday drive to Belgium for Christmas, we had to take a taxi when our rental car broke down (how they'll scam us remains to be seen. Just a flat, but no spare.) It was 55km drive and nearly 100 Euros. But the driver, it turned out, didn't know where he was going. He went to where he expected the place to be. The man politely turned off the meter and we pulled out our GPS and found the correct way. This was in the Black Forrest area (from Lahr to Freiburg).

In Madrid, we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. At some point along the way, the driver emphatically pointed something out. We looked, of course, while wondering (why?). Afterwards, we realized the bastard had changed the meter setting. Then we suffered attempted pocket/bag picking, every damn day in Madrid. Third world problem? I don't think it's exclusive.

In San Francisco, my best experiences involved taxi drivers. One who gave great advice and took us to a place where we had lunch with him (and it was exactly what we wanted). Oh, he also gave us his personal phone number, just in case we ran in to any difficulties. And he was straight. Another who turned off the meter and gave us a tour he wanted to give, then sat in the car and gabbed with us after it was done, then came up to our room for a drink and climbed into bed with my partner and I.

However, the scam that got me recently was a shoe-shine guy in Istanbul. He was walking in front of us, and his brush fell out of his kit. I called it to his attention. He offered his gratitude and insisted on giving my shoes some care, seemingly as a thank-you. Once he was done, he demanded an outrageous payment. I was impressed by his cleverness but couldn't communicate that, so I just gave him a small fraction of his demand and walked away. (the small fraction probably was still too much).

We were in Prague a few weeks ago, and it was freezing. We were trying to get to a place we thought was fairly far, and tried to take a cab (for a low value of "far", given the weather and the fact my legs hurt). The driver explained how to walk there and refused to take us! It was far closer than we'd realized.
posted by Goofyy at 11:50 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My buddy has horror stories about pedicabs in India. You negotiate the price before hand, then the pedicab driver takes you somewhere completely different and insists that you pay him more than agreed to, so you have to argue and rage at him to take you where you want to go, so he takes you somewhere else..

I spent a fair bit of time in India and never really noticed this. I definitely paid more than a local would have, but we're talking the equivalent of a dollar or two.

Same in Egypt. Overcharged, but not by much in Western terms, and only because we didn't haggle much upfront.

On the other hand, in Sydney I had a guy take me on a massive detour from the airport that meant I paid twice what the trip was worth. In New Zealand I'm 90% certain I dropped an envelope with hundreds of dollars cash in it (it was either there or on the footpath, and I went back pretty quickly afterwards when I realised). Never got it back, when I called to report it, the dispatcher didn't even seem interested in listening to what I was saying.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:30 AM on January 6, 2010

The trouble is, bargaining is a perfectly normal activity in many countries, for the locals as well as for the visitors. And if you don't play the game, it's almost like trying to drive on the "right" side of the road in countries where everyone else drives on the "wrong" side - it simply doesn't work to insist that your way is the only way, even when it isn't. In Afghanistan I noticed that all the prices I was paying (well aware I was paying more than a local would, but that was OK) seemed to have doubled over what they had been on a previous trip a year earlier. I had already begun to suspect the cause, and then an Afghan friend confirmed it without any prompting on my part: the flood of foreign travellers neglecting to bargain and paying the starting price without objection had simply pushed the prices up and up.

Other scams were easier to spot, like the street sellers with a pram full of ice and bottles of Coke. You soon learned to reject all the Coke bottles with Fanta caps (or vice versa), those containing slightly greenish or blueish liquids, those with bent caps pushed carefully back on (all of which we generically called "Kandahar Kola"), until only the real McCoy was left. And even then the first taste told you that you hadn't been careful enough.

But that's veering OT, for the fun of remembering and telling...
posted by aqsakal at 12:49 AM on January 6, 2010

Uzbek taxi scams and other misadventures. (self link)
posted by Meatbomb at 1:03 AM on January 6, 2010

This one time I was in New York and I gave a guy $200 to meet Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito and Tony Danza, but then I sat on that park bench for a whole fuckin' hour and finally only Danza showed up and he was all "yeah, the other guys couldn't make it."

He gave me some bullshit excuse about being late because he was at a wine & cheese to raise money for orphans, but he smelled like Coors and there were pretzel crumbs on his shirt, so I was all "well I don't think things are as they appear MISTER DANZA" and then there was a bit of shoving and then he took off.
posted by Shepherd at 2:31 AM on January 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've been scammed plenty. This was the most masterful:

The then-girlfriend and I wanted to hit a couple spots, the last of which was the local caves. We found a driver who was happy to oblige, and negotiated a very fair price. We end up at the caves, he says he knows them well, and with barely a word exchanged between he and the people at the entrance, escorts us in himself. End up on a boat into the absolute darkness, with a few flashlights. He then puts us on dry rock, and says he'll be back to pick us up in an hour. I'm an idiot, and begin asking, "Oh, how big is the place? Are the trails marked?" The then-girlfriend, being much wiser, freaks a bit and clamps my arm. She then says to the driver "No, you'd better damn give us a full tour." The driver then quotes some ridiculous price. The then-girlfriend, being much wiser, immediately rolls her eyes at me, having figured out is was a scam all along. We ended up agreeing to a less extortionate price, which would also include a drive back to the hotel where we were staying.
posted by FuManchu at 4:45 AM on January 6, 2010

I once opened a taxi door while in motion when the drive took a turn obviously designed to run up the meter.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:47 AM on January 6, 2010

I've seen some pretty creative meters in cabs, so even a metered ride isn't a guarantee if the cab company isn't reputable. My sister and a couple of her friends and I took a cab from her place outside of Tunis to a nightclub on the other side of town, and we watched the meter pretty carefully the whole way there... when we arrived, the cabbie hit a button on the bottom of the meter, and the price instantly quadrupled. When pressed, he explained that since there were four of us riding in the cab, the price was of course 4 times as high. A shouting match in Arabic ensued, during which my sister yelled at him through the window, then he got out of the cab to get in her face... at which point he realized that she was six inches taller than he was. The volume dropped a few decibels. We ended up paying around 1.5x the original fare, which (in retrospect) was something like $4.
posted by Mayor West at 5:51 AM on January 6, 2010

... the amounts in dispute equal 30 or 40 cents- I hate it when someone gets all indignant and colonial over such a trifling amount.

I don't like making a fuss about what amounts to petty change either, but I do it anyway. There are taxi drivers who will scam you. There are also those who are honest. I imagine the honest taxi drivers feel like chumps whenever they see some cowed tourist get into a scammer's cab. I imagine they ask themselves 'What's the point in engaging in honest hard work when fares meekly permit themselves to be ripped off?'

It pisses me off. Scammy cab drivers not only defame the honest ones, but steal from them too - the extra share of money they take is money the honest driver will not see, and for that reason I don't give a shit whether the scam amounts to fifty cents or fifty dollars - I'm going to do my damnedest to hang onto every penny so I have more to spend on the honest ones.
posted by Ritchie at 6:07 AM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Taxi drivers are really in the worst position to be trying to threaten anyone. Because they have to maintain control of the cab. They can't move around. They can't defend themselves, and they certainly can't attack.

Punching a minibus driver doing 80 down a two-lane road, carrying three lanes of traffic each way (one car in the drive lane, one on the shoulder, scooters either on the double yellow or between the drive lane and shoulder) seemed like a bad idea at the time, for many reasons.
posted by electroboy at 7:08 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I benefited from the Turkish propensity for cabbie backscratching on my trip there. My friend and I stayed for several days at a hostel in Istanbul and were flying out. Instead of hailing a cab, the desk clerk offered to call one for us, which was of course driven by his cousin or something. Halfway to the airport (and on a relatively tight time frame) we realized that my friend had left her passport at the hotel. We had no cell phone, and no phone number for the hotel, but of course our cabbie did and called them. They looked for the passport and located it while we drove back, she was able to leap out of the cab and grab her passport, and then we sped back to the airport in time to catch our flight. We might have missed it if we'd had to ransack the place for the passport ourselves. The cabbie got a good tip.

In Japan, I was almost embarrassed by the lengths to which cabbies would go to provide great service. When one guy didn't know the street in Tokyo I had named, he got out and flagged down other cabbies until he found one who could tell him where it was, and then cut the price of the ride. Totally awesome.

Another time, I almost taxi-scammed myself, by getting on the wrong minibus in Sofia (pro tip: just because you rode the No. __ bus to get somewhere does not mean you can take the same bus, coming in the opposite direction, to go back!). I kept waiting for us to get back to familiar territory, but instead ended up in the middle of nowhere, at the end of his route, as he counted his fares. Our eyes meeting in the rear view mirror when he realized I was still on the bus: priceless. And once we figured out, via elaborate pantomime, what had happened, he offered to go slightly off his return route to drop me off, for free (the only price was he told every new passenger about the dumb American in the back, and there was some chuckling).
posted by amber_dale at 7:20 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

In England we decided to walk from Northumberland Ave to the Tower of London along the embankment. What started at first as a nice walk soon turned into a drudging slog along a very very busy boulevard, it was not fun or nice. Annoyed and tired we finally hailed a cab to drive us there. After about a 2 minute ride we arrived at our destination (we were less than 5 blocks away at the time, though we didn't know it). The ride cost us about 20 pounds (roughly $50 canadian at the time, exhorbitant!); I wish the driver had told us just how close it was at the time.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2010

By the by, the taxis in and around Ixtapa/Zihua in Mexico seemed pretty honest. We only saw the "I don't have any change" bit once or twice, but didn't much care. The fares to and from town or the airport are pretty well known (if you do 5 minutes worth of homework before going) and large variations are likely to raise eyebrows. 'Course, my Spanish is also native-fluent, which probably doesn't hurt either.
posted by jquinby at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2010

Where are you people getting all these cabs?

A Black Man
posted by Eideteker at 9:02 AM on January 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

Just a counterpoint to the story above about how cool Japanese taxis are:

We put my (non Japanese-speaking) parents in a taxi outside a station near Tokyo, having first confirmed (in Japanese) that the driver knew where their destination was - about 10 minutes' drive away. I got on the train to go back to my house, and got a call about an hour later from my parents. The driver had been lying about knowing where he was going, had eventually called up the ryokan and had them guide him in over the phone, and refused point blank to accept anything less than full meter fare even though he had been driving around in circles for most of the ride.

None of us ever took another taxi in Japan after that, even despite the automatic-opening doors and lacy white gloves.
posted by mjg123 at 9:22 AM on January 6, 2010

The note switch, Buenos Aires, 1997. Disembarking from a long plane ride, I get two 100 Argentina peso notes from the cash machine. When I reach my destination, the fare is $40 and I hand over one of my $100 notes without really looking at it. The guy shows me a $10 note and asks me for more. Somewhat befuddled, I hand him the other note and he gives me change. I get into the hotel and realize that there's no way I handed him $10, because ALL I HAD WERE $100s! Idiot!

Helped me later in the Yucatan peninsula, though, where two different gas station attendants tried it with me. One guy also tried not filling the gas tank and asking for more money if I wanted it fuller. His compatriot engaged me in a very confusing conversation, basically giving ridiculous distances to other locations and contradicting me on names of famous sites. When the guy "filling" the tank asked for payment, I noticed that the pump had been reset. I told him the gauge hadn't moved on the car and that if he didn't fill it with the right amount with me watching I was going to get a policeman to sort it out. Thankfully that bluff worked. It sure is a lot of work keeping up with the scammers, though.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2010

I'm not sure who was scamming who, but it made for a colorful introduction to New York when my father and I witnessed this just outside Penn Station, on his first visit with me here.

Two passengers got out of a cab, and the driver got out, too, screaming at them. One of the passengers got into a fist fight with the cabbie, while the other casually looked on. The cab somehow went into gear and started driving off, empty, up the block and across several lanes of traffic. The onlooking passenger jogged after the cab, jumped into the drivers seat, put it in reverse and backed it up to where it had been. He put it in park, got out, returned to where he had been standing, and continued to watch his friend and the cabbie fight. After exchanging a few more blows and screaming epithets, the cabbie got back in and drove off. I'm not sure he even knew what happened.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:07 AM on January 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I had a cabbie try to scam me in Duluth MN. I had taken the cab from my parents house to the airport a couple of times and each time the fare was 2-3 bucks.

However, it was snowing and the cabbie made every effort to spin the tires he could. The fare climbed past 5 dollars before we gotten a mile or two from the house. When we got to the airport the fare read nearly 20 dollars.

I handed him a 5 dollar bill, and he threatened to call the cops. I just laughed and walked away.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:07 PM on January 6, 2010

In the mid 1980's I packed a suitcase to go live my suburban teenaged horselover dream of working at the racetrack. I flew to JFK, where the dispatcher yelled out "shorty" as he called the next cab forward to take me to Aqueduct, about 4 miles away. The driver quickly picked up on my naivety, and charged me $20. And then I tipped him an extra $5. Because he was right.
posted by gubenuj at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2010

Just a counterpoint to the story above about how cool Japanese taxis are:

That's okay; Japanese taxis are still cool. Especially if you get in one with beer and cash in the back.
posted by armage at 4:28 PM on January 6, 2010

I don't like to generalize.. but a specific anecdote or two can't hurt, right?

1) Negative: Rome, Italy, last year: I don't know Rome, never been. Taxi dude acted like he didn't know where the hotel was, drove around in circles a bit, and negotiated a flat rate up front (something like 30 euros, which was like 60 bucks.). I went with it because I was *tired* *grumpy* and ready to hit the hotel... but it was obvious what he was up to... and my Italian was not up to arguing. (The hotel was about 10 blocks away, we could have walked, and the cab fare would have been far less on the meter).

2) Postiive-ish: Costa RIca - you'll find the full gamut of taxis here, from fantastic guys, regular hard working taxi guys, regular guys who push and BS their way into a few extra dollars, and outright scams.... and the worst part is you can't really tell. If you speak spanish and know the rules, all of them will obey the meter........the regulatory body is quite serious about it, but if you don't, you'll get screwed a bit. On a bad note - the airport. You go to get a special airport cab (I recommend this) - the tell you the price. You pay. They give you a receipt and a taxi #. You go outside - a guy grabs you right away and takes you to the cab - may or may not be the same #, but that's their own pecking order, not a scam. The dodgy part is when they drive you to your destination and then start saying how the price was wrong or it was a mistake or whatever. (On a positive note - sometimes they are quite correct - the people running the taxi computer make mistakes too - I tend to tip them the difference and then some if they are polite and nice about it. If they act dodgy, they get nothing. Generally, I'd ask 3 times when paying the taxi person in the airport first to clarify exactly how things work, because I've been scammed in the past - this works - they'll radio and confirm with the driver.

ON the flip side, my neighbor is a local taxi driver, and he's awesome - always there when you need him, knows where to get anything at any time, knows what's going on around town at all times ,and completely trustworthy. I've also had random pirate cab-drivers in Costa Rica return laptops (macs, even) left in back seats 3 days later... the 3 days was because they didn't know how to find me and were out of town visiting family the day before. Not everyone is evil.
posted by TravellingDen at 4:52 PM on January 6, 2010

Myself and two friends got a driver and were taken to see four sites around Bangkok for less than the equivalent of one US dollar (paid at the end), with the pre-requisite detour to the Transportation Authority (air conditioning, nice pictures), and the tailor shop (again air conditioned, nice pictures). At each shop one of us took turns pretending to being the mark and getting a lot of information and deciding when to come back. You can't beat that, and we tipped 100% and got him a drink too. Check with a local and do the same.

In Cambodia I had a my own scooter driver take me around Angkor Wat for $12USD a day, and he'd wait (sometimes for hours) as I explored ruins. If he was running more than one client at a time I'll never know, but besides suggest a buffet with an excellent traditional dance show, there was nothing skeevy about it.

In Thailand my scuba instructor took us out to bars by scooter. Later after asking me to drive back since he had too much to drink he stole 500 baht from my pocket while I was trying to stay on the left side of the road. I knew he was doing it but was relieved because at first I thought he was trying to come on to me.

In Montreal I've had cab drivers either take the wrong route or try to over charge the fixed rate to the airport on more than one occasion, but 90% of the time I've had great cab drivers.

In Banff my wife recognized our cab driver as a writer for the local paper.
posted by furtive at 9:26 PM on January 6, 2010

I've never had the amazingly good taxi experiences some have described here, but no particularly bad ones either (althought waiting for taxis at home in Ireland in the rain at a taxi rank with hundreds of other people on a saturday nightduring the boom always sucked). Except once in Santa Monica - boss was keeping the rental car for some unplanned meetings, I was flying back to NY, so he flagged me a cab and asked the guy could he get me to Long Beach airport. "Sure" but he had no frickin clue where it was, cue stops at petrol stations for directions, much frantic phone calling to other drivers, being able to see the airport but not get there, etc etc and my making the plane by the skin of my teeth. I cannot stand drivers who pretend they know where they're going.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2010

Where are you people getting all these cabs?

A Black Man

What do you mean, "you people"?
posted by electroboy at 10:26 AM on January 7, 2010

How nice are you to telemarketers?

I usually ask if they take pleasure in their work.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:27 PM on January 7, 2010

How has this thread gotten so long without a link to the wonderful Jens Lekman's ode to Black Cabs?
posted by anthill at 8:23 PM on January 8, 2010

Charming. Becasue simply living in or around poverty means that ethics are abandoned, and every single person you meet while travelling in these countries is out to get you.

Although every Thai in Bangkok who approached me on the street speaking English was trying to scam me, including a really cool guy who I thought was genuine but ended up trying a taxi scam after talking for five minutes. Obviously this doesn't say anything about Thai people in general, but it certainly would give a traveler who didn't know about the scams a negative opinion.
posted by smackfu at 6:43 AM on January 12, 2010

I've been lucky, all things being equal.

My only bad-taxi stories have been due to sheer...well, bone-headedness on the driver's part rather than any deliberate attempt to scam me; like the guy I asked to take me to Grand Central, and he kept on trying to take me to the freight entrance because "but you have luggage!"

And my favorite good-taxi story was when I was trying to give a friend a "surprise birthday" party -- I told him I was taking him out for dinner at this fantastic new restaurant, but I wanted it to be a surprise so I was going to blindfold him until we got there. In truth, we were heading to his all-time favorite greasy spoon in Chinatown, where all his other friends were secretly gathered and waiting for me to lead him in and whip off the blindfold.

I had another friend with me to lead him into the cab, so I could hail the taxi and explain the situation. The guy I got, when I gave him the address and explained what I was doing, just started grinning and giggling, and said okay, this sounded fun. I waved the other two over to the cab and we got in.

We were at about 45th St. in Manhattan, heading down to Chinatown. The three of us in the back were having our own conversation -- the blindfolded guy was trying to guess where we were going by counting the number of turns we took or something -- when suddenly the driver loudly asked, "which bridge should I take, the Manhattan or the Brooklyn?" Just as I was starting to panic and lean forward and ask "uh....why are you taking a bridge at all, when we're still in Manhattan?", the driver turned around and gave me a HUGE grin and a wink -- and that's when I realized he was trying to get in on the game of confusing my friend too. I just grinned back, and I think I ended up giving him a 50% tip.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on January 13, 2010

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