Finding Your Way While Traveling: Taxis and Punctuality
Cultural Comparisons – Part 1I am hardly an expert on cultural differences. Most of the time I am just trying not to make total a faux-pas, even in my own culture. But having travelled so much recently, I thought I’d share some of the differences I notice in the cultures of Guyana, Barbados, Netherlands, and USA. And I’ll include examples of what not to do, based on the brilliant attempts at navigating a new culture I’ve made!
TaxisIn the Netherlands and the US, there is usually a meter in the Taxi, or a set fare for longer trips. In Barbados and Guyana, there is what I call ”tourist tax”. This can be anything between overcharging tourists by $1 to overcharging by $20. There are never meters in the cars. The day I arrived in Barbados I was badly overcharged when I came from the airport. ($35 one way, when I found the going rate is $12). The next day, I was charged $15 to go 5 minutes up the road to a grocery store. Mind you, that was $15 each way. But then I started negotiating with the taxis. The same return airport trip cost $12, and the grocery run cost $2-3. Tip one is always negotiate!
Negotiate Before You Get InBut that comes with one caveat: negotiate before you get in! In Guyana, the taxis were only charging us about $1 more than the locals said was normal, so we took it in stride. But one night, a driver who had taken us to the grocery store a couple blocks away (remember, not so safe!) wanted us to pay $10 more than the usual fare. He screamed and yelled, threw the money on the ground and charged the security guard. The woman from the front desk of the hotel came and asked me to give the money to the guard to give the driver, just so he would go away. Even she was afraid. After that, before we get in the car, we tell them exactly where we are going and ask how much they will charge. Feel free to negotiate, but don’t get into the car until you agree with the price. If they try to overcharge us, I just say, “the taxis have been charging us “x” amount for this trip”, if I know the usually fare, and they usually come right down.
PunctualityThis is one that surprised me. With the exception of taxis drivers in Guyana and Barbados, all 4 countries run on time or early. This was especially surprising in Guyana, where 60% of the population is of Indian descent. Having spent so much time in India where “on time” means at least half an hour late, I’ve been impressed by the punctuality. Those who know me well know I’m often running 5-10 minutes late. Punctuality isn’t usually my strong suit. I’m not normally REALLY late, but I’m also not normally ontime or early. But now, all the Guyanese actually believe I run on time (as they also do). In the Netherlands, if you’re not there 5-10 minutes early, you are late. I’ve missed more than one appointment by arriving 5 minutes late in Holland. In the US, depending on the appointment, 5-10 minutes late may not mean anything (like at a doctor’s office where you’re going to wait for half an hour anyway), but of course in professional settings you don’t want to be late! Guyana was a Dutch colony at one time. Perhaps the Dutch left their punctuality along with New Amsterdam? And here I am, for the first time ever, running on time or early. Perhaps turning over a new leaf? Or maybe I just realize how important this work is and I am excited for the opportunity. May the habit stick!
Punctuality as respect to self and othersI’ve decided that no matter how busy I am, the only reason to be late is because I was doing something more important. For me, as everyone wants to feel they are the most important, I would try to avoid that. I can think of one person, very close to me, for whom I’d be late to see anyone else. Otherwise, I’m getting better at my own discipline. And I’ve started to realize that punctuality is respect to myself. It’s like saying: “what I’m doing is so important, I need to be on time to make full use of it.” For those who are always on time this may be an obvious statement, but for me it is a revelation. If I always want to be late, perhaps I should drop that activity? And if not, I should value it enough to give it the full time allotted. What about you? Are you always on time? How do you view punctuality? In part 2 I will talk more about spirituality, as I’ve been deeply touched by the spiritual values of Guyana and the contrast between the various cultures I have called home.
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