My taxi driver rounds a corner and finally stops in front of a two-story red brick building sandwiched between its neighbors, their roofs jutting out into the smoky air like a bulldog’s underbite. This will be my guest house in Kathmandu for the next four days.
It’s been nearly 2 hours since we left the Kathmandu airport on a ride that should normally take only 20 minutes, and nearly 48 hours since I left Los Angeles.
I’m exhausted and happy. Me, the driver, my bag, and all of my hopes and fears make their way into the Holy Lodge lobby, an outdoor courtyard restaurant that gives way to a reception desk and a mysterious-looking staircase.
I thank my driver for the two hour joyride from the airport and pull out a 1000 rupee note to pay him the 650 rupees I owe. “Do you have change?” He blinks at me, frowns. (for those of you counting, that’s my third decisive frown since arriving in Nepal 2 hours ago.)
I look helplessly at the reception desk attendant, a sprightly kid with enough energy to fix the country’s electricity problem. “I pay now, you pay later.” The kid hands some money to the driver, who glares at me fiercely.
I get the impression that he’s not making the 650+ rupees he’d hoped to, and that the hotel will come out the winner when I eventually fork over the cab fare upon my departure.
We ascend the mysterious staircase to my room, the energetic Nepali kid carrying my blue beauty while I lug my purse and laptop case behind him.
He slings my bag to the ground in front of a door on the second floor, and digs an enormous, cartoonish-looking key from his pocket. The key is so large, in fact, that I begin to wonder if it could’ve possibly been stored in his pants pocket.
I’m relieved to see that I’ve been placed in a private room, as promised. The shared bathroom is on the same floor, with a separate toilet and shower. (This will prove slightly awkward later, whether I’m in the shower while my German neighbor is pooping, or vice versa.)
The room is small and clean, with two twin beds outfitted in what seems to me to be some kind of traditional Nepalese handwoven blankets. I’m in. My things are tossed one Bed A, and I’m about to toss myself on Bed B, when I remember there is a very hopeful, expectant-looking young man standing in the doorway.
I can’t bare the thought of tipping people when I don’t know how much to tip. After being forced to tip before even getting into the taxi, then leaving my driver hopelessly disappointed, I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it wrong again. I also wanted to stop spending money until I could a handle on the exchange rate.
“Thank you so much. I will tip you at end, big tip when I leave.”
There’s that stunted non-English again. His face falls. Crap, I’ve done it again. That’s like 3 times in a just as many hours.
I am a disappointment to the entire nation of Nepal and I’ve only just gotten here.
It’s so confusing, so disheartening to not know whether you’re actually being an asshole, or whether you’ve just protected yourself from being taken advantage of.
Maybe Mr. Energy is pissed because he’s used to getting a tip, and I’m the one moron who’s not biting. Or maybe he’s pissed because I didn’t fall for his act. Throughout my time in Nepal, I will be faced with the same dilemma over and over again, and I’ll never quite know the answer.
This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!
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1. Have exact change for your taxi driver so they can’t play the “I don’t have change” card.
2. Have a few small bills in a separate pocket so tipping is easier.
3. Just tip the guy, even though it’s not customary, because YOU will feel better about yourself (this only applies to when you first start traveling - after awhile, not tipping starts to feel more natural, for better or worse.)
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