Latin America: Receipts for Everything 8

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I’m sure this, like others, will be added to later, but I have to make a few comments on a Latin American ritual that I find interesting (we will come back to honking in a longer blog).


I’ve never been in a culture that has issued so many receipts.

Today I went to buy some moisturizing lotion. Strange thing about not showering every day — your skin seems to get pissed off when you DO shower — and you itch for a really hard 30-45 minutes or so afterwords. Who knew that the French were so smart for just avoiding the whole thing? Or is it just the deodorant thing??

In any case, so I go into the the Farmacia to find some lotion. I attempt to tell the lady at the counter what I need. She looks at me like I am from Mars.

I am.

I wander about. At one point, I open up a container of something I think might must be what I want. I squirt a small bit out on my hand to make sure its not shampoo or hair conditioner and the clerk lady, who apparently has been following the frightening guy from Mars, taps me on the shoulder and says something to the effect of “no samples.” Even I got the gist of that hand signal.

I went ahead and bought it — I’d figured that I’d sullied it (damn — another great British word), so it was the least could do to buy it and make it an honest container of some mass-produced item.

I am nothing if not a romantic at heart.

So I take the deflowered container up to the counter. Motion that I want to pay for it. She rings it up. Hands me a receipt. Points across the room to another person behind another counter and makes it apparent that I need to pay over there (since I am waiving money in her face and she is making “shooing” motions at me).

I went over and paid at the other counter.

This wasn’t the first time that I had to get a receipt in one location and pay in another. Its happened a half-dozen times or so. And the need to give you a receipt is amazing down here. Today I paid for my hostel room. Two nights. I think it was $30 dollars U.S. or so. She quoted me the price. I paid exact change in cash. She motioned and made me wait — and went and got the receipt.

I’m trying to remember the last transaction I’ve had without a receipt. Internet cafe — $2. Receipt. A couple empanadas for lunch? Receipt.

And its not just the people behind counters printing off receipts for you. I’ve had a dozen people motion and ask me to wait, while they do up a hand done receipt for the $4 item I’ve just bought. I’ve thrown out the “no problemo.” The hand motion that should mean “no receipt needed.” I’ve done all I can do — but I can’t avoid the receipt.

The odd thing is that Latin America is sort of also know for its corruption. A little “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” culture. Know somebody — get something done. And so on. But everywhere you go — they want to write a receipt – and therefore be able to be tracked for tax purposes. On the opposite side of the same scale, I offered to pay for hotel rooms a few times with credit cards and the clerk has looked at me like I’m an idiot and said “there is an extra 5% charge for a credit card.” This could be the money that the credit card company tacks on, but I think it is just as likely its the tax they have to pay on verified stays in their place (sales tax).

But then again, they’ll write me up a receipt for my cash payment in a heartbeat.

I’m coming back to this part of the world. I want to learn to speak Spanish well. I also want to understand. I like these folks. I just am confused. A lot.

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About Michael Hodson

Iā€™m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

8 thoughts on “Latin America: Receipts for Everything

  • Mamacita Chilena

    Giving out receipts is actually a law in Chile. I don’t know about elsewhere, but here I would assume that they do it, sort of as you said, to prevent corruption. I’m glad you found my blog, yours is awesome! I’m adding you to my Google Reader šŸ™‚ It’s always fun to hear about people on their own round the world trips. Makes me even more anxious for mine to begin!

  • DTravelsRound

    Wow. That is a lot of receipts. Interesting process, too. I’ve never been to Latin America, but am looking forward to going. We’ll have to compare notes (and receipts) once I get back.

  • Dave and Deb

    Funny post. Too funny that with countries known for corruption, they give away so many receipt. I always have a wad of receipts that I carry around from our travels. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to throw them away, so here I am carrying around receipts for coffee, hotels, food…I really need to do a receipt clear out soon.

  • Margo

    That is truly odd, and slightly hysterical…. got to love those nitty gritty details that separate us. Can’t believe you were sampling the merchandise! šŸ™‚

  • Federico

    Different ways of doing things. At any rate you will probably not be able to return what you buy anyhow!

  • John

    You should check out ONLY its a cheap clothes shop in Colombia, 1st they take the clothes off you and put them behind the counter, then someone writes up a receipt for the clothes, then you queue to pay and they stamp the receipt, then you take the stamped reciept back to the first place and they put the clothes in a bag and staple the receipt 3 times to the bag so you can no longer read the receipt or get it off the bag without tearing it to peices.
    Wish I knew why!

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