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Friday, January 16, 2004
Food and Money
Breakfast at Pension Ametyst
I asked the woman who runs the pension whether the tap water here is drinkable (not that I plan to drink it -- I'm more trying to get a feel for things like brushing teeth, rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables, etc..). She said quite enthusiastically "oh, the tap water everywhere in our country is drinkable!" and then a long moment later, as if it were almost an unrelated thought, she said "but it is better if you boil it."
We've also encountered something of a paradox with respect to cash. The 200Kc note, worth about US$8, is probably roughly socially analogous to a twenty dollar bill in the States (somewhere between ten and twenty, really). Producing anything larger than that is invariably viewed with some apprehension, and most places simply can't make change for it. None of this is too unusual, except that most of these places also don't accept credit cards--which leads to strange situations like the apartment building in Prague wanting 1000Kc per night from us in cash, but being unable to break a 2000 note. Again, I can imagine similar situations in the US, but it doesn't make it any more logical--how can a hotel that deals only in cash and charges 900 to 1600Kc per night not have 1000Kc in cash on hand to make change? Mind you, my preference from the start would have been to have nothing larger than a 200, but the ATM machines, for which I pay something like a $4 per-transaction fee, love to hand out 1000 and 2000 notes. Next time, I guess I'll take out 1,800 ($72) which will leave me still having to break a 1000 somewhere, and yet paying 100Kc just for the ATM service charge. So there's the dilemma: the ATM service charge is 10% of the value of a note too large to spend, but the ATM hands out the largest notes it can.
In other news, the internet cafe I posted a picture of recently (Snek, which means snail in Czech incidentally) hasn't evolved to the point of selling laptop access yet, but they have these 10T cables lying around and when I asked them about laptops they said I was welcome to use my own computer there if I want (no charge). They didn't seem to think I would have any luck hooking up my laptop--seemed to think I needed my own special cables and things, and cursorily looked at the 10T cables on the ground (which were already plugged into the network on the other end) as if they were useless scrap, but after a quick review of their (static) configuration on one of their desktop machines I configured my machine by hand and was online in a couple of minutes, able to transact email queues, sync my journal, and the works.
Of course, after all that, I forgot to type "lj" to run my script that updates the LiveJournal index, so my new entries were up but few knew it. :/
We satisfied our curiosity for fruit dumplings the other night. They're a lot like Hawaiian manapuas stuffed with jam. Yummy, but not worth the carb effects.
Sigh... We just went down to pay for the remainder of our stay here. Their published rates include a 20% discount for stays longer than 3 days, which she also volunteered to us verbally, and on top of that she offered a 10% cash discount. But the final figure came out notably higher than the one we'd computed before hand based on the same assumptions, so we looked puzzled and walked through the math with her a couple of times. The first time, we find that the 20% discount only applies to the days after the first three. We figured that was a possibility, so we were fine with that (though the [English] wording of their flier definitely implies otherwise). But the math still seemed wrong. The second time through, we find she's counting an extra day on the page boundary of her calendar. We point this out and she seems overly apologetic. (I remember back to the fellow in Prague who also counted an extra day on the page boundary until I pointed it out to him. I dismissed it as an honest mistake at the time but now I have to wonder.) Of course we treat it as simply an honest mistake, make light of it. (Was it or wasn't it? So hard to tell...) But then she says something to the effect that with the 20% discount, she can't go any lower, so she can't do the cash discount, and she seems suddenly contented to take the Visa. (This one is hard to explain by any benevolent interpretation... Anyone?) We offer to pay her cash anyway, since it makes little difference to us ($4, in retrospect), and she says that would be better for her since it takes a very long time for her to get the money when it is paid with Visa. She'll be serving us breakfast for the next week, after all, so a little extra civility seems prudent. We bring her the money, she offers us a gift from the jewelry shop she runs during the day (which we are doing this transaction in)--what looks like a bit of green glass with a jaggy surface. She calls it something like "moldevite" and offers some folk lore about it. Clare* seems intrigued by it and asks how it's spelled so she can learn more about. The question is side-stepped and we learn no more. I ask her for a receipt for the cash ("just for my own records"), she says she'll leave one for us tomorrow with breakfast. I tell her that's fine with a friendly smile (weighing the odds vs. costs in my head...), and wonder in anticipation.
As with the personals scam I posted a while back, I know some people will berate me for being suspicious and paranoid, while others will berate me for being naive and gullible. I favor the odds that things will work out fine from here forward, but I remain uncertain about the truths of the path behind.
I would chalk it up to bad math if only they ever erred in our favor.
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