lunes, 23 de agosto de 2010

You got a good number I hope?

My husband and I were shopping for mobile phones at the store the other day. When we were about to activate them, the seller asked me if I wanted a $200 number or a $25 one. When I asked what the difference was, he looked at me with an “Are you kidding me?” look and said “Well the $200 one is a good number, the other one is a bad number”.

To his surprise, I chose the bad number. “Who cares?”, I told myself. “It is just a number after all. “

A couple of days later, I was hanging out with my new Lebanese friends, and announced triumphantly that I had gotten a new phone. To this, my friend says, “You got a good number, I hope? The 71 numbers are crap”.

Sight… I got a 71 number.

A couple of days later, I start getting calls from a number I don’t recognize. It starts with 01 (a good one). After the third call, I pick up the phone. A man asks me “Do you want to buy this good number?”

And now, when I look at my cellphone, I can’t help but asking myself “Did I just commit social suicide by getting a bad number? Have I fallen down the echelons of good respectable people together with my 71 number??”

Note: when you get a Black Berry here, you can only get a good number. When I was told this, I refused out of principle to fall into the scam and got an LG instead. I should have thought about this twice…

viernes, 20 de agosto de 2010

“It’s 10,000 during Ramadhan”

I would like to open this blog on a topic that most new comers have to confront from the time they step out of the airport: taxis. Cab drivers in Beirut have an acute sense for recognizing people who are not from around here (although sometimes it is so evident you are not from here that the driver doesn’t need any particular talent to know you are totally clueless).

The key to taxi success in Beirut is to understand that a regular cab can either be a “taxi” or a “service” (pronounced sehrveece). “Taxi” means basically that you have the cab for yourself. “Service” means that once you get in the car, you eventually get to your destination, but the driver will slow down at every intersection and emit a discrete “beep-beep” to collect other fellow passengers until they fill all 5 seats.

Now, what is very important to know is that in Beirut, your “taxi” ride can cost pretty much anything the driver feels like charging you (if they take out a printed “official” rate, it’s still baloney).

However, there is a happy consensus that “service” will cost regularly 2,000 LL (about a $1.50). So, as a foreigner, you are stuck with $10 rides, telling yourself “Boy, this is expensive.”, till you discover “Service”. And by the way, service and taxi is exactly the same car.

On a side note, one of my favourite things is that when a taxi stops and you a) ask for service or b) are going to a place they are not going to, they will either turn their head without a word and drive off, or insult you a little bit.

But coming back to my initial point about the driver’s 6th sense on foreigners… Unfortunately, knowing the real taxi or service rates will not save you from some skillful techniques to rip you off anyways. Some of my favorite examples:

“It’s 10,000 during Ramadhan”

“Hey, Bibi, can you give me $10 for gas?”

“No, not 10,000, it’s 10 dollars”

“10 dollars, with leather seats and A/C”