Saturday, April 6, 2013

Recommended Suggestions: Two Czechs vs the Met and the Culture of Ponying Up

by Drew Martin
The news of two Czechs suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art for not making it clear that the $25 entrance fee is only a recommendation sparked jeers from New Yorkers and headlines such as "Cheapskate tourists sue the Metropolitan Museum" and their action was profiled as a "Stupid Lawsuit of the Day."

The lawsuit seems very American but the complaint is entirely Czech. In the mid 90s I worked with a mason in northern Czech for a day. For a bricklayer and a Czech at that time, he was well traveled; he had just returned from building kilns in Kuwait. The thing I remember most about him was that he bragged about eating the food of the countries he traveled to. This seems like something that comes with the territory but it was not uncommon for Czech travelers to bring all of their provisions with them for trips to neighboring countries where food and beverages might be at least ten times more expensive then they would pay back home.

Czechs are not tippers; it is not built into their personal economies or social graces. At the same time they, especially taxi drivers, hoteliers, and restaurateurs, gouge tourists with exorbitant prices. Even in untouristed cities, public places such as swimming pools charge neighboring Germans much more for access to their facilities. I know this first hand, when I often had to argue to pay Czech prices even though I spoke the language and lived there for five years with permanent residency status.

At lot of this has to do with the poor economic hangover from communism, but I would even argue it is embedded in their entirely phonetic language where every letter is used, as opposed to French where half the letters never even make it out of one's mouth.

The lawsuit seems two-part: a frugal and efficient people, as well as a hurt feeling of being duped as tourists in the game they play back home. Personally, if I am checking out an exhibit for a few minutes at the Met, I will pay a dollar. I have paid the full price many times before, and I work in New York and pay their taxes. If you have enough money to fly across the ocean to spend a week in New York and are going to spend a day at the Met, pay the full price.

Yesterday, in lieu of going to my Manhattan office, I took a free shuttle from my New Jersey hamlet to another town where my company has a satellite office. I told the coworkers about the service and a Jamaican friend told me to make sure I tip the drivers. Simply put, this is a cultural difference, and my coworker is right. Maybe the Met can change their entrance to resemble the New York Subway, with nominal fees to enter the system, and cops waiting on the other side to nab people who jump the turnstiles and shake them down for $100.