When you are traveling, sometimes you can just feel it. You go to pay for something, and you just know that if you were a local, you would have paid a much lower price. You are an ‘unsuspecting tourist’, and they will take you for what you’ve got. Here is a link to a New York Times article on this subject so that you really get the point.
So how can you avoid this? Here are some steps you can take:
It generally only happens in the tourist traps
It is really interesting to see the difference between a place that is full of tourists, and one that has limited tourism. Where you find streets full of tourists, the locals tend to bite the hand that feeds them. In places where tourism hasn’t quite caught on yet, the locals welcome the tourists as guests. I’ve seen tourists in Rome or Tuscany get ’special’ menus with inflated prices, and I have seen tourists in Soriano nel Cimino get special menus with lower prices than the locals get!
Food: It is all about the menu
You may walk into a restaurant and be handed a menu in English. What a convenience, you may think. But consider that if the place has an English-only menu, they also have a menu for Italians. There is a chance that the prices are different. Also, if the place does not have prices on the menus, beware, as they can give you any price they want.
I remember once I was in Pompeii with some other Americans that didn’t speak Italian. We went to a restaurant, and as they heard us speaking English, they handed us English menus. I glanced at it, and considering that I was accustomed to ordering in Italian, I asked (in Italian) for the Italian menu. The waiter was caught off guard, excused himself and gave me the Italian menu. It took about 30 seconds before I noticed the prices were much lower on my Italian menu than they were on the English menu.
Must you really eat 100 feet from the Spanish Steps?
Perhaps it is the steep rent they have to pay, or perhaps it is due to the steady flow of tourists that think the Euro is play money, but the closer you are to a major tourist attraction, the more you are going to pay for just about anything.
I use the Spanish Steps in the title because long ago Paola and I were hungry, and we happened to be there. We went to the first place we could find, and had a cinnamon toast and a cup of tea. In today’s value, we paid the equivalent of about $40.00 for 2 cups of tea and a slice of toast.
When you go to a caffe and want to order your espresso, you may have the option of being served at a table, or standing up at the bar. There is often a huge surcharge for sitting at the tables. Again, the closer you are to Tourist Central, the worse this will be.
If you have to ask how much something costs, and you are in a touristy area, you a re probably about to be ripped off.
Paola and I were walking in Rome once, and we spotted an Espresso machine that was so ugly, so cheap looking, that as a joke, I walked into the store and pretended to be an American that was interested in it. You have to understand that this thing was horrid, and couldn’t have been worth more than $25. It was the Yugo of Espresso machines. At the time, $150 was extremely expensive for a home Espresso machine. When I asked how much it was, I was quoted $250 , which was, at the time, like saying $1,000 now.
Keep it short
In a loud and crowded environment, if you stick to very few, easy to pronounce words, and you are not dressed with a straw hat and camera hanging on your neck (and that 6 carat diamond on your finger), you might not be recognized as a tourist right away. For example, if you don’t stick out visually, and you walk up to a bar and quickly say in a low voice ‘un caffe’ , instead of the Learn Italian in 7 days version that would be something like ‘Vorrei un caffe’ per favore‘, you probably won’t be noticed until you start fumbling though the Euro change to figure out which coin is which. But by that time, you have your price, and probably were not ripped off.
Off the beaten path
I said this at the beginning, and will say it again. When you get away from the major tourist spots, and find yourself on the road less traveled, these problems just don’t happen. The people are not bombarded by thousands of tourists a day, so you are more of a welcome guest than a quick buck. Italians are extremely hospitable people.