Friday, April 29, 2011

Militant Madrid Taxi Drivers

On my early morning trip from hotel to Madrids sprawling airport this morning, I rang up  20.30E tab.  My Spanish speaking and comprehension is terrible, and while the meter read 14.30, the cab driver (who spoke zero English) asked for 20 30 ... pronounced Bay-tay tren-tay.  Somewhat confused, I offered him two 20 Euro notes, since I had no smaller bills on me.  Ballistic! He went nuts, and pulled the American foreign language tactic of SPEAK LOUDER AND MAYBE THE FOREIGNER WILL UNDERSTAND YOU.  He DID NOT want to break a 20 Euro note, and wasnt about to let this stupid American rob him of 30 cents.  I realized it was not 30 Euros only after he printed up the tiny reciept, and pointed to the 20.30.  Okay, now I get it.

I remembered I had a 2 Euro coin in an outside zippered pocket on my laptop bag. Militant grumpy cab driver begrudgingly accepted it, and then painstakingly counted out my change, slowly, as if I was a disobedient 5 year old needing to be taught a lesson in politeness and correct change. 

This was the 2nd very unhappy, very exacting cab driver Ive encountered in Madrid.  My last business trip here, 4 years ago, I walked about 4 miles to the city center, ate dinner, began to walk back, and got slightly lost in a residential neighborhood around 11pm, so I flagged down a cab, got in, and had a 15 Euro ride back to my hotel about 2 miles away.  When I tried to pay with a 50 Euro note (the only thing ATM machines used to give back then) the cab driver refused to accept it, and threw a tirade, lecturing me in rapidly, angry Spanish, until I went into the hotel, got change at the reception desk, and returned to pay him his 15 Euros.

Yes, I understand its nice to get and give the right change, but sometimes travelers just dont have it.  Only in Madrid have I seen such angry reactions, and outright refusals to accept legal tender that is not of the expected small size the cabby desired.  Thanks SO MUCH for the honor of letting me sit in your cab while you listened to deplorable and vulgar American hip hop, whose lyrics you probably didnt understand, while you ground your straining clutch and scowled disgustedly.  It was such a privilege to be in your unpleasant company and ride in your dirty cab. Ill make sure I bring exact change next time, and you can skip the diatribe, Madrid cabby.


  1. With each airport in the world now seemingly built on the same template, it's all too easy to visit fall in the trap of not observing the culture and behavior of people in the countries we are. But beware - this is how not to get the most out of your trip. I know that many of us just go anywhere there is sun, sand and cheap plonk, but believe me, you are missing a lot of fabulous experience if you do not seem to be much closer to the people and the culture in which you have visited.

    London Airport Pick & Drop

  2. In Zurich the office I worked at was only a 5-minute drive from the airport. The Swiss ATMs, embodying efficiency to a fault, would tend to give you the least number of bills possible for any amount. So if you asked for 100 CHF, instead of 5x20, you'd be more likely to get a single 100 CHF note. So now the cabby is not only grumpy that he's waited in the airport rank only to get a 5-minute fare, but that you then try to pay with a 100 CHF note. But still, they don't react *that* badly. They grumble a bit and try to glare you into a painful, sudden death, but make change anyway.

  3. Waseem, I was in Madrid out of business necessity, not leisure. Had my Spanish been better, I would have not had a problem.

    Pyker - I love the death stare. Very Swiss, in it's subdued emotionality - something latin cultures do not replicate =)


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