…Continued from Part 1
“Ok, so what’s the angle?” I mumbled through my pizza, wondering if there actually is such a thing as a free lunch.
“Well, it’s pretty simple really,” said the young barman, and it was. Like the mysterious pizza-wielding waitress and the energetic laughing imp dancing from table to table out in the courtyard, he was confident, good-looking and they all appeared to be in their early twenties.
“You see, the owner of the pub lives in the UK, and only comes here a couple of times a year to check the books and collect his money,” he continued. “As long as the books are in order, everything is fine. Whatever money is left over gets shared among the staff”.
He opened me another beer. I didn’t bother attempting to pay for it. The insightful young man, reading my mind confirmed that yes, the surplus income was substantial.
“Yeah, we do pretty well during the tourist season” he said casually, sliding the tobacco tin across the bar again.
Apparently the other guy working the lunchtime crowd outside was the leader of the syndicate. He never stopped moving, running into the bar every minute or two to deliver lunch orders to the kitchen. Sometimes he would stop briefly to show the barman a receipt, with a quick burst of quiet, evil laughter.
“Forty! Forty dollars, hwa, ha, ah, ha, ha!!!!”, not entirely unlike the Count from Sesame Street.
“How do you determine the prices?” I asked, sipping thoughtfully on my beer.
He said that anyone in the area without a word of Czech (pretty much everyone – the locals know to eat elsewhere) generally pays around double, and the price escalates from there.
“Americans tend to pay a bit more… and then they leave a tip!,” he said with a wry smile.
The guy working the tables outside set the prices, making them up as he went, and apparently he had an uncanny sense of the tourists’ level of ignorance regarding local pricing, and also how much cash they were carrying. It was apparently not uncommon for a table of obnoxious, Rolex-wearing, Gucci bag-carrying tourists to be charged ten times the ‘actual’ price.
After another beer he quietly confided that his share of the supplementary income was significantly more than his legitimate monthly wage.
The afternoon light had dimmed and I lost count of how any beers I had drunk. He handed me another, sensing this would be my last.
“Take this with you, we’ve got plenty,” he said, pressing his tobacco tin into my hand. I thanked him but declined, saying I had to catch a flight home the following afternoon.
I thanked the guy profusely for his inexplicably gracious hospitality. During several hours I had been treated to good conversation, about 10 beers, almost an entire pizza and some pretty good weed… for one Euro. For the first and only time in my life on the road I had paid less than the locals.
He waited for my final inevitable question, which required only a quizzical look and a shrug of the shoulders.
“Well… you’re not very well dressed”, he said grinning, than paused a few seconds to let this sink in.
Looking down at my dirty jeans and slightly torn T-shirt I couldn’t disagree.
“Ah,” I said, still a bit confused. I knew he hadn’t meant to insult me. He paused a couple of seconds more.
“That dick back in the Square overstepped the mark. He shouldn’t have done that to you,” he said, as if there might exist some unwritten code observed by the perpetrators of this tourist scam all around the world. Or perhaps just Prague. Perhaps just this guy. Perhaps because I’d mentioned earlier in the day that I’d also been ripped off or short-changed by practically everyone I met in Budapest a few days earlier.
The young bartender suddenly looked like a thief with a conscience. Perhaps he needed to feel like Robin Hood – stealing from the rich and, occasionally, giving to the dirty looking backpacker-type.
“You seem like a nice guy,” he said simply. “I don’t want you to leave my country with a bad impression of the Czech people”.
And I didn’t.