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[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

One of the biggest annoyances for foreigners from higher-income countries settled here in Colombia is the constant risk of being charged the ‘gringo tax’.

It's best not to trust what a Localiza employee tells you.
Not worth the paper it’s written on? Apparently not.

Basically, there’s a belief, not without foundation in some cases, that we have more money and greater access to resources than the locals, thus it’s fine to charge us more when the opportunity arises.

Going loco with Localiza
This plays out in many different ways across a range of sectors. However, in my own experience, I find it happens more so in smaller, family-run type businesses than in bigger companies. This is not to say, though, that those larger operators are more honest — it’s just a reflection of where the majority of my interactions occur.

A friend’s recent experience with an apparently “reputable” car hire company suggests the “big boys” will also try to extract as much as they can from you if they feel they can get away with it. Of course, this is not exclusive to Colombia, it happens the world over. Nonetheless, I tend to find that the culture here means there is, unfortunately, little pushback against such practices.

It’s why I feel the need to share my friend’s woes with the aptly named Localiza (my emphasis, but perhaps they’ll consider it in future marketing campaigns — always here to help, guys). A buyer, nay renter, beware cautionary tale.

On hiring a car from the company for a few days, the employee who delivered it to him wrote down on the receipt that the return time was between 15:00 and 16:00, and not the official 14:00 owing to the time of day he was receiving it  (see photo above). So it was to my friend’s unpleasant surprise that when he dropped back the car around 15:00, he was told he was an hour late and would be charged accordingly.

‘There’s a general rule in Colombia that if you feel you’ve been hard done by, the last thing you should do is get angry with the source of your ire.’

He argued the point all the way to the office, leaving the car parked up without doing a final check with Localiza staff (never a wise move). He was then told there was a scratch on the windscreen which happened under his watch. My friend says it was there the day he picked up the car but because it was so minor (see below) he let it go.

The company charged him 1,400,000 COP — about 310 euros — for that defect. Following the lodging of an official complaint, Localiza has agreed to give back 600,000 COP of that fine, inside the next 30 to 60 days. No rush, lads.

A lost cause
A cynic might say that because he protested over the return-hour discrepancy — this set him back a mere 16,000 COP (3.50 euros) but it was the principle of it that annoyed him — Localiza staff decided to ‘go after the cheeky gringo’ for much more. (There’s a general rule in Colombia that if you feel you’ve been hard done by, the last thing you should do is get angry with the source of your ire. Try, as difficult as it might be, to play it cool, even bring humour into it, and you might get a more satisfactory result.)

Perhaps Localiza Colombia saw the gringo coming with this one.
The offending scratch.

Whatever the case, considering how the company behaved over the return time, one can’t rule anything in or out over the windscreen scratch debacle. Also, that they’ve now decided to refund almost half of what they charged for that damage, it appears they were more than covering any potential additional costs on their part.

The whole episode is an apt reminder to always be on your guard when entering into a lease or sale. This is even more so the case in these straitened times.

One can never be too careful on such matters, especially as a foreigner who may be out of his/her comfort zone and ripe for the picking. Caveat emptor indeed.

Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.

Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.  

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor Irlandés, quien ha estado viviendo en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y cultura, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-colombia-cast.

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    @wwaycorrigan [Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.] In the 1972 classic, Godfather, there's an early scene where Don Corleone berates his godson, Johnny Fontaine, for crying because he didn't get a part in a movie. 'Godfather, I don't know what to do', a sobbing Fontaine mutters. Cue a slap in the face and a violent retort, 'You can act like a man', followed by a gentle mocking of his behaviour from the Don. [caption id="attachment_4643" align="aligncenter" width="347"]People who cry regularly get on Wrong Way's nerves. 'Let it all out ...' (Image from emojipedia.org.)[/caption] Crying times That scene is set in the late 1940s, a quite different world from that which we inhabit today, to state the obvious. These days, it's all about being in touch with one's emotions. It's OK to cry, whether you're a man, woman, child or however else you define yourself. Don't suppress your feelings, let it all out. I don't completely disagree with that approach. For one, for the most part, it's good to be honest about how you feel — at least if you're asked that is. What I don't like, what irritates me, is when the waterworks start, especially — although not exclusively — when it's men who are shedding the tears. This is where I side with Don Corleone. It's not that it makes me uncomfortable, it's more a case that I find it hard to take seriously men who cry with regularity. As for women, whether the tears are genuine or not, they often, um, precipitate a granting, justified or not, of whatever they may be looking for. I generally make an exception for death, but even in that there seem to be people who let flow more than really appears "necessary". (Perhaps we could introduce a tear scale. 'Careful now, you're close to your limit.') Bidding adieu to loved ones for an indefinite period of time is another "acceptable" tear-jerker. Alcohol-induced crying is also excepted, meaningless as it often is.

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