Having just passed the one-month mark, I wanted to write a little about some skills that I’m attempting (with varying degrees of success) to develop while in Lima. Of course there are obvious things like “be adaptable” and “keep an open mind”, but I think these particular skills offer a curious glimpse into the everyday life of this vibrant city…
Okay, so you want to take a taxi, and you know that it’s cheaper to use a combi, but damn it, you don’t feel like spending an hour squished into a seat (if you’re lucky) with some stranger’s crotch next to your head (if you’re not). So taxi it is.
You wave down one that looks okay: it’s clean, it has a yellow-capped license plate, it’s got a few official-looking stickers plastered on the windshield*. The driver peers out the window and you say where you want to go. He tells you a price: 18 soles. You think to yourself, I swear it only cost 12 the other day. You say twelve. He counters with sixteen. You go to thirteen, he goes to fifteen. You’re already pissed that you’re wasting time, and the other cars are honking. You roll your eyes and agree, then proceed to sulk for the next twenty minutes about how those three soles could have bought a nice chicken sandwich at Tambo.
Haggling is a fundamental part of most street-taxi transactions. If you’re not a big fan of doing it (particularly when you come from a culture where it’s looked down on), you can choose not to haggle, and either avoid situations where you need to (use an app to call a cab with a fixed price) or overpay. If you’re fine with the price that someone is asking, and you don’t feel like haggling, then don’t. I’m not an economist, but I don’t think that you’re going to singlehandedly ruin the transportation market.
The most important thing to overcome when haggling is embarrassment. The taxista might roll his eyes and look incredulous at your offer (and he might be right, because hey, you’re new to the city after all), but don’t let that make you feel bad enough to give in. Stand your ground, and decide to move on if you must. Frequently, acting like you’re fed up will be the incentive the taxista needs to accept your price; after all, less money is better than none. Also, maybe you’re embarrassed about your (lack of) Spanish skills** and prefer to end the awkwardness of the conversation by capitulating. It’s likely, however, that you will never see that taxista again, so if you’re really concerned with saving money, don’t even think about letting embarrassment stop you.
For my part, I fall prey to the embarrassment curse more times than I’d care to admit, but I’m trying to toughen my resolve. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be immune to haggling shame. I only hope that upon my return I won’t get into any altercations with some poor Uber driver.
*There are a whole bunch of things you should check to make sure that a taxi is safe, especially at night. I know maybe half of them, so a Google search is your friend on this one.
**One way to avoid this is to perfect a few carefully chosen phrases about how close something is, or how ridiculous the price is, etc. Also, make sure you know your numbers in Spanish! If all else fails, just shout numbers at someone until you agree.