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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: Latin American customs

Monday, March 2, 2009

Latin American customs

I'm sure this, like others, will be added to later, but I have to make a few comments on a Latin American ritual that I find interesting (we will come back to honking in a longer blog).


I've never been in a culture that has issued so many receipts.

Today I went to buy some moisturizing lotion. Strange thing about not showering every day -- your skin seems to get pissed off when you DO shower -- and you itch for a really hard 30-45 minutes or so afterwords. Who knew that the French were so smart for just avoiding the whole thing? Or is it just the deodorant thing??

In any case, so I go into the the Farmacia to find some lotion. I attempt to tell the lady at the counter what I need. She looks at me like I am from Mars. I am.

I wander about. At one point, I open up a container of something I think might must be what I want. I squirt a small bit out on my hand to make sure its not shampoo or hair conditioner and the clerk lady, who apparently has been following the frightening guy from Mars, taps me on the shoulder and says something to the effect of "no samples." Even I got the gist of that hand signal.

I went ahead and bought it -- I'd figured that I'd sullied it (damn -- another great British word), so it was the least could do to buy it and make it an honest container of some mass-produced item.

I am nothing if not a romantic at heart.

So I take the deflowered container up to the counter. Motion that I want to pay for it. She rings it up. Hands me a receipt. Points across the room to another person behind another counter and makes it apparent that I need to pay over there (since I am waiving money in her face and she is making "shooing" motions at me).

I went over and paid at the other counter.

This wasn't the first time that I had to get a receipt in one location and pay in another. Its happened a half-dozen times or so. And the need to give you a receipt is amazing down here. Today I paid for my hostel room. Two nights. I think it was $30 dollars U.S. or so. She quoted me the price. I paid exact change in cash. She motioned and made me wait -- and went and got the receipt.

I'm trying to remember the last transaction I've had without a receipt. Internet cafe -- $2. Receipt. A couple empanadas for lunch? Receipt.

And its not just the people behind counters printing off receipts for you. I've had a dozen people motion and ask me to wait, while they do up a hand done receipt for the $4 item I've just bought. I've thrown out the "no problemo." The hand motion that should mean "no receipt needed." I've done all I can do -- but I can't avoid the receipt.

The odd thing is that Latin America is sort of also know for its corruption. A little "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" culture. Know somebody -- get something done. And so on. But everywhere you go -- they want to write a receipt - and therefore be able to be tracked for tax purposes. On the opposite side of the same scale, I offered to pay for hotel rooms a few times with credit cards and the clerk has looked at me like I'm an idiot and said "there is an extra 5% charge for a credit card." This could be the money that the credit card company tacks on, but I think it is just as likely its the tax they have to pay on verified stays in their place (sales tax).

But then again, they'll write me up a receipt for my cash payment in a heartbeat.

I'm coming back to this part of the world. I want to learn to speak Spanish well. I also want to understand. I like these folks. I just am confused. A lot.



At March 7, 2009 at 3:44 PM , Blogger Mamacita Chilena said...

Giving out receipts is actually a law in Chile. I don't know about elsewhere, but here I would assume that they do it, sort of as you said, to prevent corruption.

I'm glad you found my blog, yours is awesome! I'm adding you to my Google Reader :) It's always fun to hear about people on their own round the world trips. Makes me even more anxious for mine to begin!


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