I haven't quite adjusted my mind to the way pricing works here. There are two things at work: In America, a lot of things are "free", even if they're really just factored into the price. For instance, tap water at restaurants. You don't have to pay for it in the sense that it's not on your bill as a separate item, but in some sense it's probably factored into the cost of your food because the restaurant pays a water bill and factors that into its pricing. Secondly, in America we tend to 'bundle' several things together that most people usually get as a package deal into one price. They are separate individual items, but you mostly necessarily get them all together. For instance, when you want to buy a hose, in actuality you are buying the tube plus the fixtures that attach it to the water source and shoot out the water at the end, but you just buy the assembled hose as one line item.
None of that applies here. And even though I know that, and even though I have a dozen examples of how I've been confused and frustrated when I don't think through Every. Single. Piece. of what I need, I still am baffled and have not learned to operate within this system. And then I end up not getting everything I need or paying more than I would have initially thought when I just looked at prices like an American.
So, the freebies. Things that aren't free here that are in America- Tap water in restaurants (though I don't drink the tap water generally). Ketchup or any kind of condiment. Take-away/carry-out boxes. Yes, you have to actually pay for the BOX they give you if you want to take some of your food home. Pickles. Gosh people, just give me some dang pickles for free on my burger. Sauce on pizza. They don't put tomato sauce on pizza, which is in and of itself a tragedy, but because of that you actually have to pay for PIZZA SAUCE. There are no free refills on soda. You often have to pay for ice if you want it in your drink. Shall I continue? I'm MORE used to this now, and it's just a different way of doing it. Like I said, the things we think are "free," probably aren't, but we don't actually see the cost so it feels free.
But then there is the second part- pricing each item individually rather than bundling goods/services that usually come together. My teammates actually went through the hose thing- you actually have to buy the tube, the fixtures, etc, and put it all together. You can't just go to the store and by a ready-to-use hose, as far as they could find. My most recent example was when I wanted to get a hair cut. It's really a big deal for me to try out a new stylist. As in, I don't do it. I've lived here for a year and a half, but I always stick it out until I'm home with my fabulous Turkish lady in Brooklyn. Maybe I'm overly fearful of something tragic happening and then having a bad haircut for awhile, but I'm just really picky about the whole situation. Add to it a foreign country where you have NO CLUE what the heck is going on, and oy vey, nervous nelly.
But I finally decided to give it a try because I really needed a hair cut and knew I couldn't make it until Christmas when I'll be home. So I chose a place that I've heard is good/nice, and I went in to ask how much a haircut costs. She told me (in Romanian) that it depends on length, but maximum 52 lei (the currency here). The exchange rate is 3:1, so considering that I willingly pay that same thing in DOLLARS in Brooklyn, it didn't seem too bad. To be honest, for here that's a pretty lavish amount to spend on a haircut; just like in America you can get a hair cut for $10 or $100, it's the same here, just in lei. And those who are used to 10 lei haircuts think the 100 lei haircut people are as absurd as the $10 people think of the $100. So. Given that I thought a nicer place might mean a higher chance of a nice haircut, I made an appointment for the next day, put aside my nervousness, and went. I had a guy who was probably around my age and spoke English, and the haircut turned out alright. Well, no, I hated it for awhile, and it's VERY Romanian-trendy, but I've warmed up to it a bit now.
Here's what happened though. I went up to the pay and the lady said it was 90 lei. I'm sorry, what? It was the same lady from the day before, so I reminded her of our conversation and asked her why it was almost double. Keep in mind, this is all in Romanian, and while I've drastically improved in my ability to hold a basic conversation, I am by no means fluent, and when I get flustered or frustrated I have a really difficult time thinking of what to say. Which adds to my frustration. Which adds to my inability to articulate myself. And so on until I just say IS THERE ANYONE HERE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH?! But she tells me, 'oh no no no, that's just the price for the hair cut. You had a wash and a dry/style as well, so those are each extra.' Oh but of course. So when I asked yesterday how much a hair cut costs, you answered that literal question. Ok then. You didn't offer any extra information such as that washing and drying are separate and extra. And you didn't think that might be helpful? Do people really not do all of that together as a standard process for hair cutting here? Do people here know to ask all of those questions and I'm just so used to a different system that this seems really manipulative/dishonest to me to do it that way?
But of course I say none of that. Grr. Grr. and Grr.
So what do you do in that situation? I'm clearly foreign and clearly don't know how the system works, so maybe I'm to blame. And maybe if I were Romanian I WOULD know to ask all those things, I just would KNOW that all of those pieces are separate, know that the woman isn't going to offer extra information, and know what questions to ask to get ALL the information I need to know how much this process will cost. And clearly I've already consumed all the services, so it's a little bit difficult to say, 'Actually, I'll just leave that piece out' like you could checking out at a store. But see, the thing is, in America, there is also customer service. There is a mentality of the customer being valued and wanting to help out the customer so as to gain repeat business and referrals. Not so much here. So while in America the woman might have "split the difference" and taken off some of the cost since I clearly didn't know or understand or there was some kind of miscommunication, that isn't even remotely a consideration here. The woman just stared at me angrily, waiting for me to pay. So, what do you do? Pay, of course. So my "reasonable-but-somewhat-splurgy" 52 lei haircut turned into a lavish "this better be the best dang hair cut I've ever had" 90 lei expenditure.
I want to say, ok, lesson learned. Next time I'll know! Maybe a bit annoying, but at least it wasn't hundreds of lei. The old, "it could have been worse" mentality, right? And I'll just take that little nugget and apply it to the next situation so it doesn't happen again. Yea, but probably not. Because somehow there will be something else that I just simply don't have a clue about, would NEVER consider is all split into component parts, and and won't think to ask in my fumbling Romanian. Maybe I'll have a completely successful and not-at-all-frustrating next year of purchases, but something tells me there may be another blog entry or two to come regarding this aspect of life in Romania.