It’s no secret that Europe is an expensive travel destination, but sometimes even Europeans are shocked to discover just how pricey their homeland can be.
A group of tourists from Rome got a nasty shock after enjoying a caffeine fix at a café in Venice. The travelers had taken a seat outdoors at the well-known Caffe Lavena in St. Mark’s Square where they drank four coffees and three liqueurs as they listened to live chamber music. However, things turned sour when the bill arrived, showing the group of seven owed €100 (about $134) for their drinks. The frustrated tourists say they didn’t realize that a €6/person music surcharge would be added to their check, resulting in a bill €42 higher than they were expecting.The café defended themselves by saying that all the prices were clearly listed in their menu, including the music surcharge and the €6 cost of a coffee.
This isn’t the first time tourists in Italy have been outraged by an unexpectedly high bill. Earlier this year, a group of British tourists were blindsided by a €16 charge for gelato at an ice cream shop in Rome – the story garnered so much attention it prompted the city’s mayor to apologize for the incident. And a few years back, a restaurant in Rome was actually shut down after it charged a Japanese couple €695 ($930) for a meal. Their receipt listed pasta dishes costing €200 and an obligatory tip of €115.50.
Have you ever been ripped off during your travels?
It’s one of those tricks you learn in “How to Rip off Travelers 101”: act friendly, provide food or a service and then reveal that you are charging an exorbitant price. The traveler is at a disadvantage because they have already used the service or eaten the food. In general, they will pay all, or at least a major portion, of the price you are asking.
This is what happened to a Dutch couple recently in the Indian state of Bihar. They enjoyed some samosas (spicy, fried dumpling-like snacks), which usually cost well under $1 ($1=49 rupees). When they were finished, the proprietor of the market stall demanded payment of 10,000 rupees (just over $200). He claimed that the samosas were made with rare herbs that were natural aphrodisiacs. After arguing, the couple paid. It was an expensive but valuable lesson, right? Except that the couple went to the local police station and complained. The police made the samosa-maker return the money, except for 10 rupees, the actually price of the snacks.
Many folks, these days, are traveling for more than just sightseeing, they’re going shopping. With the dollar lingering near all-time lows versus some major world currencies, many shopping tourists are traveling to the States. However, some real shopping bargains exist elsewhere, particularly in the rip-off goods category.
My trip last year to China was a real eye-opener: the major markets all sold knock-off goods openly, while big, red banners, hang across all entrances, proclaiming “Maintain Intellectual Property” (one of the few signs anywhere in China written in English). (I’m still trying to figure out what the banners that said “Striking Forbid Illegal Management Activities of Soliciting Goods” mean, but that’s another story …)
These huge open-air markets are enough to make brand-name companies fume, with brands like North Face, Nike, Victorinox, and Columbia Sportswear and others all featured prominently, for pennies on the dollar. They don’t even bother with the spelling errors (you’ve seen them: “Addidas”) or mismatched teams (e.g., “Atlanta Braves Football Club”). The rip-offs are so realistic, it’s hard to tell them from the real thing, and it’s all right there in the open. It puts Canal Street to shame for sheer audacity.
But it’s not just China that’s in the big business of selling black-market items. They’re being sold across Europe too, usually in Asian-run boutiques. The shoe pictured above was featured prominently in the window of a downtown Barcelona shoe store just last month. Note the altered swoosh. I can hear Phil Knight screaming …