I've learned over the past 15 months that being a gringo in Central America can be kind of pricy. While the food, beer and lodging is dirt cheap, almost all street vendors, police officers, and taxi drivers implement a gringo tax. Unless you've living in an area for a long time, you'll never know whether or not you're paying a gringo tax. There are a number of ways to, partially, get around paying this tax. Some of them a little scary, some of them practical, and some of them quite comical.
The scariest of the scenarios is when dealing with the police. Any gringo driving a car can be assured they'll be pulled over at some point. Just last week I was pulled over while riding in the back seat of a gringo's car. The officer asked to see all paper work, checked the emissions, and checked to see that all of the emergency gear that is required was in the trunk. Once he realized everything was in order, he glanced back at me and asked why I wasn't wearing a seat belt. “It's not necessary.” I told him. “It is now”, he replied. “Do you want to pay your ticket now, or in court?” he asked (while a family of four wizzed by on a motorcycle, baby being held under the mothers arm). The “fine” was to be relieved of my passport, and brought before the town judge, who is more than likely a relative of the officers, or to pay the officer five dollars. There goes my beer money for the night.
The best way to be assured of not paying a gringo tax is to just ask around the hostels in the area what things should cost. I've seen gringos pay thirty dollars for a cab ride that I know only costs five. They were even staying in one of the biggest hostels in town. All the had to do was ask reception what a ride to the beach costs. Taxis are by far the worst at imposing a gringo tax. I've negotiated down to four dollars before when the driver started at twenty. All the while telling me that he was making me a special price. Maybe for a gringo, but I've seen locals pay even less than the four dollars I was paying. Know what the cost is supposed to be, and negotiate that cost before you get into the taxi.
My friends way out of paying the gringo tax is amongst my favorite. I've seen him do it a dozen times, and I still crack up every time. Every time he asks the cost of something, whether he knows the true price or not, he reacts the same way every time. He puts his hand over his heart, takes a step back, and lets out an overly exaggerated, “whaaaaaat”. He then stands there, eyes wide open, and mouth slack jawed, just staring at the vendor. Then he puts on a little show where he is astounded at the price, he starts asking all of the locals, and tourists, around him in his overly exaggerated manner, “can you believe how expensive this is? Por favor senora! That can't really be the price! Is it really? Everyone pays that price. I simply can't afford it. Would you be willing to take half?” Confused, and embarrassed for the poor gringo, they usually come to terms on a greatly reduced price. I tried the tactic once, with my friend there, and couldn't even get out the second sentence before I was too embarrassed to go any further. I paid five dollars for a tee shirt he, two minutes later, bought for three. I guess it pays to act the fool.