Hal spent a year in Germany in his youth. During that year, he traveled all over Europe. He said in every country but France, you could hold out your hand with money in it to pay for something and get back the right change. They’d count it out so you’d know.
Do NOT do that in Costa Rica. At least not in heavily touristed areas, like along either coast. You will NOT get back correct change. For the first time in Costa Rica, we had money flat out stolen from us, starting with that cab driver. Over and over again. I didn’t like that one little bit.
The very first rule of thumb is DON’T BUY ANYTHING UNLESS YOU ASK THE PRICE FIRST. And in heavily touristed areas, there are rarely prices on anything. They charge what they think you can pay. Like, at a soda in Parismina, the boys got cheeseburgers. There was no menu anywhere, no chalkboard. I didn’t ask how much because I didn’t know to protect myself yet. They ate. I went up to the window to pay, asking The Girl: "Cuanto cuesta, por favor."
She looks at her mom who is next door in the yard, on the other side of their extravagant altar where I am assuming they spend quite a bit of time on their knees asking forgiveness for any sins, and asks in Spanish how much does the gringa owe for two cheesburgers? The mom says: "Un mil quinientos." [One thousand five hundred colones, about $3.] With a PERCEPTIBLE nod to her head at me, The Girl asks: "UN mil?" Mom looks at me, then back to The Girl and says: "DOS mil quinientos." [The price just about doubles to $5.] I am stunned at this audacity but I tell myself I’m imagining the whole thing. I do not imagine anything else.
I give The Girl a 10,000 colon note. She gets the change together, stacks it neatly and – while chatting me up – carefully hands it back to me with a 5,000 colon note on the bottom, a heavy coin in the middle and a 2,000 colon note on top. I know what is happening and I don’t want to catch her stealing from me. I turn away and see that she has indeed given me a 100 colon piece instead of the 500 colon piece I should have gotten. I watched her pick that coin carefully out of a bag of coins next to the register. The Girl has done this before. It makes me very sad. She scoots out from behind the counter looking very satisfied.
To me, it’s only 80 cents. To her, it’s 1/2 hour’s pay, which I guess is real money. But I got the distinct impression the episode was more about the sport of stealing from the uppity gringa than about needing the money for food. We decide not to eat there again.
Later that day, Mo bought a coca [coke] in a pulperia for 500 colones. He gave a 2,000 colon note to pay and got a 500 colon coin back in change. He asked for the other mil [thousand] note and got it with a shrug. If you know the money, you know this was not a mistake.
There were a few more instances of out and out theft, but we got used to it pretty quickly. I started adding up all the bills and counting my change, something I don’t feel the need to do in the central valley. We started to always ask how much and, if it seemed unreasonable, we didn’t buy. This continued through PV: you have to ask how much. Once I started asking, I never found a mistake on a bill and I always got back correct change. Asking how much first tells them you are paying attention. I think it’s like walking in the dark in Manhattan: if you look alert, you are less prone to attack.
There was one old man on Parismina who had icy cold cokes at prices that were not only reasonable, but the same every time we went. A lovely respite from the heat and the theft.
It’s all about the haves and the have nots.
Clearly, you look like you have it Macha.
It’s a shame but they know they’ll never see you again and they really don’t care if they do.
I know what you mean because it goes against our
morals of honor and trust. It’s hard to always have to watch your back and count your change
AND TRUST NO ONE! It’s just part of living in “paradise”.
In key west, you would hear of t-shirt shops ripping off japanese customers for thousands of dollars. since they didn’t understand our money, they would sign credit card slips for $1,000 for four t-shirts. it was rare but it happened. it’s a tourist area thing, I think. you are right: they know they will never see you again. but this sort of theft has not happened to us here in escazú… we just got your basic breaking and entering!
I’ve heard the same here in touristville Jaco. They put the amount in colones and the customer is charged in dollars. Usually the credit card company catches it since it’s a HUGE amount. (i.e. c20,000 = $20,000.)
It happened at the canopy tour. It can really screw up a vacation while their credit card is put on hold.
Who has such high credit limits anyway?!! They did.
ALWAYS CHECK EVERYTHING BEFORE SIGNING, EVERYTHING!!!!
I think it’s all about temptation. If you look at through their eyes and see dozens and dozens of tourists coming through who seem to have a lot of money to throw around and not paying attention to prices and money in general, than there are many people that will be tempted to “get something for free”.
The temptation theory applies to anything you own too, not just money. You can’t leave a garden house out in your yard that isn’t attached to the faucet because someone walking by will steal it. We had a large plant in a plant holder stolen one time. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is for those of us that live in San Jose. Everything goes under (or behind) lock and key.
Things are much more expensive at the beach as compared to San Jose. Perhaps the price of that coke was 1,500 colones and not 500 colones like you heard? Here’s a post from a Tico lawyer that lists everything he could buy for $2.75 in San Jose including soft drinks. The post was written for comparisons because he too, was charged $2.75 for a coke on the beach.
Hi Jon – yes, I think they are used to people not knowing the money. very sad that they think stealing is ok, that if someone doesn’t know the money, it’s ok to take it from them. since she did end up giving him the other 1000 back, i’m certain this coke was 500 colones. The cokes and sodas and water on Parismina were all 400 to 600 colones. she just wanted to see if he knew how to make change in Costa Rica. whoa: $3 for a coke, that would have been something… thank you for the link to the blog – i wish I could read it more easily. this would be good practice for me… i think i’m ready! See you, neighbor!
I see I misread that part, I thought all he got was a shrug. Yes we are neighbors now, moved in the day before I left for the boat.