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There’s that old story about a man in a restaurant who begins friendly banter with an adjacent table. He gets on so well with his new acquaintances that he offers to pay their bill. So up he gets, goes to the till operator and points down to where his ‘friends’ are sitting. They wave back, acknowledging that it’s them who are to be the recipients of the man’s generous offer.
Yet, the snag is, the man has actually told the restaurant employee that it’s the guys at the table who are going to pay his bill. And off he goes, before anyone realises what’s happened, never to be seen again.
It’s an interesting yarn, but one that you’d have to think falls into the ‘urban myth’ category; you couldn’t get away with it in this day and age, surely? Alas, not so. There are a few crafty operators in Bogotá not only willing to give it a go but, aided by incompetent, indifferent employees and owners, manage to get away with it.
In fact, the Bogotá version doesn’t require any acknowledgement from those being duped, as happens in the account above. No, the ‘trickster’ just leaves, apparently giving a knowing nod to the owner and his bill is placed on the tab of those he had been casually talking to, uninvited at that.
Of course, the till operators know full well that it isn’t the intention of those remaining to fork out for the man who just left. Nothing, though, is said until it comes to payment time. Then, it’s expected that the extranjeros (foreigners) will nonchalantly pay everything; sure it’s what we’re here for, to treat the locals.
Unfortunately I was the victim of such an incident in downtown Bogotá. Now my approach would be, and was, to refuse to pay, but the company I was with pulled rank and handed over the cash to avoid any hassle. It was probably the safer move for where we were (which was a tienda bar on Carrera 10 with 18; see photos).
In one regard, hats off to the guy who had his tab transferred on to ours. If there’s a chance he can get away with it, why not? My anger is directed more at the establishment’s owner. That he could just cheekily expect that we’d pay for things we didn’t ask for nor want is infuriating to say the least. ‘A plague on his house’ is the best I can wish for him.
The lesson to be learnt from this: If there’s a tab system in operation in a place that you’re not too familiar with, it’s best not to go with the norm, but ‘pay as you go’ instead. Messy episodes as the one mentioned can thus be avoided.
Plus, it underscores again the fact that you can never drop your guard in these parts. It also, sadly, betrays the mantra of many Colombians that they are amongst the friendliest in the world.
On a slightly more positive note, I can rest assured that this wouldn’t happen to me in my local watering holes in the barrios of La Perseverancia or Egipto; at least there they’d ask for a drink if they were stuck.
You see there’s still hope for Colombia, just about.
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