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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.

Tienda bar Bogotá, Carrera 10 #18-30

Best avoided: The ‘proud’ owner (the man in the yellow T-shirt) of this dodgy tienda bar in central Bogotá shows off his sublime figure.

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.

Dodgy tienda; get a good luck at the place ...

‘Right, I nominate the guys at the table in the corner to pay my bill today.’ ‘No problem good Sir.’

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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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. It’s an old joke, taken to reality for the “avivatos” here. The right course of action is to always pay first, and deny any additional charges. Now, your Company at the tiem wasn’t very wise taking you to that stinking place at the heart of stinking downtown. Next time, try to stick to places north of Calle 100, where all foreigners are welcome and betteer respected.

    • Ah, I was more responsible for the venue than my company! It was a mixture of bad luck and not being on our guard. As I mention in the piece, I’m a regular in La Perseverancia, which as I’m sure you know has a bad reputation, and nothing like this has ever happened. Indeed I know a lot of people who I rate as good friends in La Perseverancia, decent, honest folk. I’m a ‘campesino’ at heart and I feel parts of La Perse (between Carreras 4 & 5) have a country atmosphere, right in the middle of the city! A home from home you might say!

      But I certainly won’t be returning to the that bar on Carrera 10. Let’s hope karma kicks in for that place!

  2. Sorry to hear you’ve been conned as a Colombian myself I could have also fallen victim of such enchanters.. They take advantage of our friendly culture and it’s sucks when happens..my two cents .. as a tourist just stick to places that are deemes safe.. That rules applies to every country .. and I hope you didn’t leave any tips to the waiter!

    • No Andrés, there were certainly no tips given to the staff, that’s for sure! Indeed the owner was lucky he didn’t get a physical, very hard ‘tip’! A lesson has been learnt. Of course having been based in Bogotá for three years I don’t feel like a tourist any more. However, with a foreign face you’re always more susceptible to these things I guess …

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