There are few things in life that irritate me more than theft. Maybe it's the flagrant violation of the Golden Rule, or the greed of the perpetrator, but whatever it is, stealing just makes me so darn mad.
I'm sure that pretty much everyone who's traveled anywhere has their own story of getting ripped off. Here's one from the Bridget files for today's edition of Flashback Friday.
It was December 2004, and we were heading up to Istanbul from Damascus to meet up with Jeremy's brother and sister for a two-week Middle Eastern travel extravaganza. We had been living in Damascus for about six months at that point, and while we had done plenty of traveling in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, going to Turkey was going to be our first travel encounter with "The West," as it were. We were very excited to be visiting a country with a McDonald's, not necessarily for the predictable, clean food and sanitary western toilets (complete with toilet paper!) that we knew we could find at that restaurant, but because of all the things that usually go along with a country having a McDonald's in it.
Anyway, we arrived at the Istanbul airport, met up with Jeremy's sister, and made our way into the city via public transport to find a hotel (Jeremy's brother got in on a later flight and made his own way into the city to meet us). And find a hotel we did, probably one of my favorite hotels anywhere in the world: Hotel Sebnem in the Sultanahmet area of the city. The staff was friendly, the beds were comfortable, and the free breakfast on the roof of the hotel overlooking the Bosporus was excellent both in terms of the food and the view.
We saw all the sights, of course, but that's not where this story happened. This story of thievery involves, as such stories often do, a taxi driver.
Jeremy needed some new shoes, and Damascus didn't have what we were looking for. He had been making do with some ancient running shoes he'd brought with him from America, but they were almost dead and it was getting very uncomfortable for him to walk.
One evening while we were in Istanbul, a large, quasi-western city, we took the opportunity to visit a mall. We took a tram across town and then walked for forever to get there. It was as if the universe was just making sure that Jeremy got the message that he needed new shoes. By the time we got to the mall, his feet were really suffering.
The mall was very impressive, especially since we hadn't seen anything like it in many months. We found what we were looking for and, since it was getting quite late, decided to take a taxi home. In Damascus, taxis were cheap. We thought taxis in Istanbul couldn't possibly be that much more expensive...right?
Well, by the time we got to our hotel, we realized our mistake. The taxi's meter showed that we owed the driver something like 30 million lira (around $20), which was much more than we were expecting. Still, there was nothing to do but pay the man, no matter how upset we were about it.
Jeremy gathered our things to get out of the taxi while I shuffled through our stash of unfamiliar Turkish bills to find 30 million lira. I handed the driver one large bill, worth about $15, and then turned back to our stash to fish out the rest.
When I gathered the remaining $5 and gave it to the driver, he held out his hand again and asked for "the rest." I told him I had already given him everything. He said I still owed him $15. I told him I had given him that bill first. He said no, I hadn't.
My heart sunk. I knew exactly what he had done and I realized there wasn't a thing we could do about it. I'm sure that while my back was turned, he tucked the first bill into his pocket and then pretended we hadn't given it to him at all.
At this point, one of the hotel owners came outside and asked us what the problem was. We explained the situation and the owner and the taxi driver got into a very loud discussion, in Turkish. Apparently, not only had the driver stolen $15 from us, he had run the meter on the higher late-night rate, even though it was not yet past midnight. He was an all-around crook. They argued for quite a while and eventually, the hotel owner turned to us and said that it was our word against the taxi driver's, and there was nothing we could do about it.
I still didn't want to pay. Jeremy thought we should pay, just to end the situation. We were obviously very distressed. Looking back, I realize it was only $15, but in the heat and indignation of the moment, it seemed like so much more.
While we were debating about it, the owner did something I'll never forget: he paid the driver $15 out of his own pocket and sent him on his way (cursing him as he went). I couldn't believe it. It was such a kind gesture, a genuine one meant to improve the experience of his hotel's guests.
He refused to let us pay him back for a while, but I think by the time we checked out we had managed to give him back his money. And even though we still ended up paying $15 more than we had planned, it felt good to give it to our kindly hotel owner instead of a sleazy taxi driver.
So that's my story of getting ripped off. I'm sure you have one, too, and I would love to hear about it. My sister-in-law once paid way more money than she should have to use a toilet in Italy (it's those countries with millions of lira that are the worst offenders, it seems). How about you?