Monday, 12 December 2011

Service with a Sting

Happy Monday everyone! Or rather, happy Monday evening – and congratulations on getting through the first day of the working week. The weekend seems like months ago already, and the fact that I was in picturesque Prague less than 36 hours ago feels like a fiction after a day at the office. But then, I did land in London with a bit of a bump.
My travel chum pre-booked a taxi to bring us home after our weekend of sightseeing, shopping and Staropramen. After our whirlwind tour of the decidedly touristy city, I was happy to fork out the extra few quid to return to north London in comfort.
After a bit of a debacle trying to find the taxi driver, we were on our way.
“The taxi company said it was £35?” My chum checked.
“Yes yes.” The driver confirmed. So, happy that we knew where we stood, we sat back and both settled down to a bit of texting to our loved ones. My chum asked how much it would be to drop me home too.
“Eight pounds extra.”
For a five minute journey. Max. We muttered a bit. My chum tried again.
“What about if we call it forty for the entire trip?”
“No. It is forty-three to Finsbury Park.”
We looked at each other. Somewhere between Stanstead and Walthamstow the fare had gone up eight pounds. My friend quibbled. That’s when things started to get hairy.
The driver pulled over.
“Give me my money now!”
“But we aren’t at our destination!”
“Give me my money now or I’ll go to the police!”
Sure enough, he set off again and stopped a few hundred yards further on outside a deserted police station. I tried to reason with him.
“Sorry, is that including the extra drop off or to Finsbury Park?”
“Finsbury Park! Give me my money!”
Well, after a call to the cab firm we established that the fare had gone up £8 because he had had to pay for parking – although there's a free pick up point – and 40 minutes waiting time. Despite the fact that we had arrived ten minutes earlier than arranged. In the end we paid up and off we went – with a heavy cloud over the conclusion of our weekend.
Nothing like service with a smile, eh? And, don’t worry, I shall be complaining.
I had already had a weekend of being blatantly – and cheekily - ripped off. The first time I didn’t let it bother me. After a lovely drink in the grand Cafe Louvre we settled our bill with the friendly waitress, who announced that she was keeping the change for her tip before we could argue. Never mind the fact that she settled for less than we would have given her, but the cheek! Anyway, we muttered under our breath a bit and got over it.
Until it happened again.
We were having a whale of a time over a couple of Kozels, but sadly it had to come to an end. We asked for the bill. It arrived, 153 kroner and correct, so we gave a 200 kroner bill to our waiter.
No change arrived.
“Er, excuse me, but we are waiting for our change?”
A big show ensued as our waiter searched for some change and gave us 20 kroner back.
“Sorry, but we are still short?”
He looked at his mate and walked off saying something about it being his tip. Er, hello? I thought we were supposed to give the tip based on the service we received? And yes, we would have tipped generously – BUT IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE CUSTOMER’S DECISION!
The final straw came when we decided to grab a corn on the cob on the way back to our hotel on Saturday night. I gave 60 kroners for a 50 kroner snack. My change was placed in front of me, but when I went to pick it up my hand was slapped away by the lady serving my midnight feast.
“That isn’t yours! You gave 50 kroner.”
“No, I gave you three 20’s.”
“It was 50.”
Unbelievable! Okay, so I am a tourist, but that doesn’t give locals the right to well and truly extract the pee. Okay, so a vast majority of people we came across were polite and respectful, but the handful who weren’t really tainted my view of such a beautiful and interesting city.
Sadly, I suspect I know where they might have got such a disregard for other people from. Especially if they have ever caught a cab in London.


  1. Oh no! Hope this didn't taint your view of Prague too much. In the city's defence I don't think there was a culture of tipping until fairly recently - these things take a while to establish. Also, I think if you leave a note that's not too far from the actual bill they will often assume that's what you're paying. So tourists on a budget should take lots of change!

  2. Hi Laura,
    I hear you - but when you ask for your change you should certainly get it! Grr!
    Don't worry though - I still loved it :-)