FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- A group of four young French backpackers came into the Finca Tatin. We picked them up in Livingston, they rode our boat to the hotel, everything was normal. My wife, Chaya, gave them an introduction to the finca, she requested that they mark the price of the boat ride on their tab. The cost for this ride is 35 Q per person, we charge half the price of the public boats. This was all normal.
Until this band of budget travelers refused to pay for their transportation.
The Finca Tatin works on an honor system, the guests keep track of their own bills. Most guests have honor, these French backpackers did not.
“Rusty at the Casa Iguana told us that the price of your boat from Livingston would be 30 Quetzales for all of us,” one of the French girls argued.
We receive guests from this Livingston hostel every day, we know that their owner would never tell anyone that the cost of our boat was this low. The Frenchies were putting us on.
“No, the price is 35 Q per person,” Chaya explained as she leafed through the tab book to show the Frenchies how every other guest paid 35 Q each for their transportation to and from Livingston.
For the record, 35 Q is less than 5 USD .Nobody has ever argued with us about this price before, it is simply too fair to counter. But the French backpackers would not be put down by the notion of fairness, they wanted a deal and they were willing to lie, cheat, and steal for it — they were traveling on a budget, you know.
They fought my wife in Spanish, they fought the owner of the hotel in French. It is printed clearly in our prices that the cost of the boat ride is 35 Q, I was confused how they could argue it. It then became clear: they thought they could get a discount by stringing together a couple of lies with arguing and complaining.
I suppose this is one budget travel strategy, though one that even I am prone to sidestep.
They lied, they tried to get us to honor the fact that another guy at another hostel who has nothing to do with us told them an unreasonably lower price for our boat. For kicks, I called the other hostel on the phone.
“Did you tell the French kids that the price of our boat was 30 Q for all of them?” I asked him in a somewhat tongue in cheek way. I knew the answer would be negative.
“I told them that it would be 30 Q each,” he spoke, “then they asked me if they could get a discount . . . They are trying to pull one on you.”
I became angry. Chaya was annoyed. The Frenchies kept arguing. The owner of the hotel raised his hands up into the air.
“We work on the honor system, pay what you feel is right.”
He then laughed and walked away from the young Frenchies, he went to dining room to eat hot dogs. He was done with it.
Chaya returned to checking the Frenchies in.
“I thought you said the price of the dorm was 45 Q for two people,” one of the French girls jumped into a new battle.
I am sure that never before in the history of travel, never in the experience of any traveler past or present has any hostel ever quoted the price of a dorm bed for two people. It has never happened, the price of a dorm bed is always for one person — I know this, the scumbag Frenchies probably also know this — but this girl again tried to lie and cheat for the salvation of a Euro or two.
A scumbag move. To barter for a cheaper price when traveling is one thing, but lying, twisting another person’s words, and cheating is another. These scumbags were trying every which way to cheat us. Our prices are cheap enough, 5 USD for a dorm bed is standard fare in Guatemala, it is a good price in most parts of the world. But the French girl tried to rally her troops to make my wife charge them the standard price of a bed for two people.
“No, Chaya spoke sternly, “the price for a dorm bed is for one person.”
She wrote the price down on their tabs without further argument.
The Frenchies then promptly went to the kitchen and ordered pizzas, the most expensive food on our menu.
“I called the Casa Iguana and they said that they did not tell the French clients that the price of our boat was 30 Quetzales for all of them,” I spoke to the owner of the finca.
“I know that,” he replied simply while laughing, “people who fight will spend their whole life fighting. I am not going to die over 100 Quetzales, I am not going to get angry about it.”
He walked away still laughing.
I laughed too, I laughed at myself. The scumbags gave me their anger and I took it with open arms, I carried it with me. They made me want to fight, they got me. They did not get the owner of the finca, he was eating hot dogs and joking with his family as I stewed in anger.
I laughed, I learned: people are not made angry, they can only chose to be angry. Their is a choice, if I am angry it is because I chose to be. Likewise, I can choose to not be angry, I don’t have to waste my life fighting people. Let them fight, and let them float away like a balloon in the wind. Like the owner of the finca, he just laughed the quarrelsome guests off — a group of scumbag backpackers and a few dollars were so far beneath him that they hardly even registered as a thought in his head, much less a concern. He did not carry them with him, he took them without a hint of seriousness. He went on with his day.
I learned from his example. I found myself laughing, too.
I added up the tabs and checked out the French scumbags the next day. I tried to let them float away, but could not fully do it, I could not help asking them about the boat price from Livingston. They had all crossed out the price in the tab book that said 35 Q and wrote in 25. I suppose they really wanted to save that one Euro each.
“Why are you only paying 25 Q for the boat?” I asked one of them. I wanted to hear what he would say.
“That is the price we agreed to pay,” he said.
Chaya chimed in, “They were told to pay what their conscience said was right.”
I looked at the French backpacker who was sitting in front of me: “So your conscience is ten quetzales cheaper than everyone else’s?”
He agreed that it was.
Poor thing. I laughed as I added up his bill.
The four Frenchies then rode away on one of our boats, four Euro richer than they otherwise would have been. I hope their one extra Euro a piece was worth the fight, I hope it was worth being regarded as scumbags for, I hope it was worth the sale of their honor. Apparently, integrity sells cheap in the backpacker circle, maybe the Frenchies will go to the next neo-hippy tourist town and brag about how they skimmed four Euro off their bill at the Finca Tatin. Perhaps others will follow in their wake and make ugly faces and fight, lie, and cheat over money as the beautiful face of the jungle looks on unfazed.
I just waved goodbye and laughed as the French backpackers sped away on the boat. Along with their honor, they left a valuable lesson in their wake:
People who fight will spend their whole lives fighting, but I have a choice: I can get angry, too, or I can go eat hotdogs and laugh.
Next time, I will chose the hotdog route — a preferable option to mirroring the ugly glares of a group of young French scumbags traveling the world on the cheat.
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