Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spain 10 : A bad churros experience

You guys, I am embarrassed to blog about this because it doesn't reflect well on me at all, but it is a story and perhaps someday, one of you will be spared our humiliation, mine self inflicted and SH's CF inflicted, because of what you learn from reading this.

Here's the deal: There are sometimes three sets of prices for cafes in Madrid. There is the standing at the bar price, the sitting inside price, and the sitting outside price. Which makes sense because that is just the cafe owners using market forces to their advantage and charging more for what is usually the more desirable real estate.

However. SH and I had forgotten about that. We hadn't done any outdoor eating since we had arrived in Spain because I hate to be cold. But it was a pretty day in Madrid and when we went into the churro shop in search of the perfect churro - we had not found such in Toledo, where we had two churro experiences, once with great, freshly-made churros but not so great dipping chocolate and the other time with fabulous chocolate but warmed on the grill previously and still a bit frozen churros,* we marched straight to the bar to order because it seemed like the fastest way to get our churros and take them outside to sit at the churro shop's tables.

"Are you going to want to eat outside?" the clerk asked.

But of course. It was nice weather. We live in Wisconsin. We take advantage of opportunities to be outside that do not involve shoveling snow.

"Then go out there and he will take your order." She nodded at a waiter.

We got a table and opened the menu. There were three sets of prices, with the highest prices double the lowest. As SH and I were arguing about what this meant and what it implied for our decisions, the waiter appeared.

Flustered, I told him: "One order of churros and chocolate."

"Do you want coffee?" I asked SH.

He didn't know. I wasn't going to order coffee on my own because I can't have an entire cup of caffeinated coffee any more and it seemed wasteful to order just a decaf. All I wanted was a few sips of SH's verboten coffee.

"Wait," I said to the waiter. "We don't know."

But he turned and went into the shop, returning in 90 seconds with the churros.

By then, after evaluating all the inside v outside prices and determining that there was at least a one-euro difference between the two, which sometimes was a mere 25% price increase and other times was a 50% price increase and a few times was a 100% price increase, and if there is anything you know about me by now it's that I always look for the arbitrage opportunity, that is, if there is a commodity (i.e., churros or a nice purse or jeans) that costs $X in one place and $2X in another, I am usually going to choose the $X option unless there is a compelling reason not to and part of the definition of commodity is that there is not a compelling reason, we decided it was not worth $3 extra to sit outside to consume a product that we could eat inside for less.

I suppose the inside/outside thing could be what makes the churros not a commodity - that the setting is what increases the value of the churros, but a churro at a cafe is a churro at a cafe is what I say.

I convinced SH to go inside.

Let me add here that moving was completely my idea and that SH was against it all along, not so much because he wanted to pay more but because he thought it would be embarrassing to move.

I am a sinverguenza. After living in South America for two years and breaking so many rules I didn't even know existed, I am immune. When you are a foreigner in a culture, you are going to do dumb things. You get over it after a while. And sometimes you even use it to your advantage.

You mean that in Germany, even if there is absolutely no traffic coming from either direction, you still wait for the crossing light? Who knew? Oh well I'm already on the other side.

Meanwhile, the old German guy who is still waiting for the light is scolding you in German, which you don't speak, so you just shrug, give him your "I'm just a dumb foreigner" look, and continue you on your merry way.

The waiter asked what was going on. "We want the inside price churros," I said, "so we are going to sit inside."

The waiter scowled. "You already placed the order!" he said.

"I told you to wait!" I answered.

He shook his head and waved the bill at me. "If you don't pay this, I eat it!"

I thought that was a little extreme. We weren't refusing to pay for our order. We just wanted the inside price.

I sat at the inside table. The waiter refused to bring us the churros.

We sat.

Nothing happened. It was a Spanish standoff.

SH said, "It's not worth it. Let's just go back outside."

Which we did, pretending that we had planned this all along, even though we were slinking past the rude waiter in shame.

Another waitress brought us our now-cold churros y chocolate. Our waiter pointedly ignored us.

We ate. "Should we leave a tip?" SH asked.

"He was really pissy to us," I said. "I get the idea that he is either not working for tips or doesn't care about pleasing us because we are tourists and probably won't be back."**

"You had already put in the order," SH noted.

I scowled. I hate to be wrong. I hate it when it's my fault.

"I told him to wait!" I protested.

"You had already given him the order."

"He didn't have to be so rude. We should have gotten just a little bit of gringo slack," I argued.

SH agreed with me that we should have gotten a bit of slack or at least not-pissy behavior. No tip. Which was very hard for SH to do as he is a 20 percenter for anything but horrible service.

Then we found out from Rubi that nobody tips in Spain anyhow - or they barely tip - so there was no satisfaction there.

Next time, I will tell the waiter to wait before I tell him what I want.

* The bartender gave us a double order for the regular price. When I asked if the servings were always so big, he answered, "Hoy si. Manana no." Today yes, tomorrow no.

** Which wasn't necessarily true. We have been to this churro place on each of our three trips to Spain. But I suppose $10 once every few years is not enough to inspire niceness. Let me note, though, that this was the only rudeness we encountered from a waiter or clerk during our entire trip and in the waiter's defense, we kind of asked for it.

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