Sunday, September 02, 2007


It happens to foreigners in big cities everywhere. You probably know someone who knows someone who’s got a story like the one I’m about to tell. It involves the unsuspecting Americans, the ones too stupid to see they’re being played. It’s typically a sob story of some nature, and ours is no different.

But the night began well. After all, we were in Budapest; the bikes sold long ago. Having spent the previous Christmas there, we were excited to see the city by summer with its warm nights and beautiful people along the Danube. We’d been approached by a couple of girls we suspected to be Scandinavian (or perhaps Dutch) asking directions. Unable to help, they told us about an outdoor concert and we said it sounded nice but were headed the other direction. “Good luck,” we said.

After finishing our beers on the Chain Bridge, we began walking back into town and decided we’d head toward the outdoor concert and look for the girls. It’d be good to hear some music, we were out of beer, and let’s be honest, the girls weren’t a tough sell, either. So when we were stopped by two more women along the way (and I say women because they were - ya know - attractive women in their 30s) also asking directions, we didn’t plan on chatting for long. But they were headed the same way and asked us if we wanted to have a quick drink.

It didn’t take us long to say yes. After all, you know what they say about a bird in hand. So when we began walking toward a restaurant, we assumed a beer was a beer. We’d have one, yuck it up with these “old ladies” for a few minutes, and be on our way to the more appropriately aged ones at the outdoor concert. I made the first mistake, which was going to the toilet before getting to the table.

When I arrived at the table, there were already four wine glasses, four shots of schnapps, and two energy drinks (the women ordered these for themselves). The waitress was uncorking the wine bottle, and I was confused. It seemed strange that they wouldn’t even wait for me to arrive from the toilet before ordering. So as the wine was poured from a half-liter bottle, I was already suspicious that something wasn’t right (half-liter bottles of wine are often really expensive).

The conversation wasn’t stellar, either. The woman talking with Joel seemed riveted to every word that came out of his mouth and laughed (excessively?) at all of his jokes. The one talking to me was pretty much the same. This made me very uncomfortable (I’m not really laugh-out-loud funny). When the conversation turned to our accommodation for the night, we explained we didn’t have much money and were staying in a hostel. “It’s like a hotel for poor kids,” we said. Joel’s “date” then extended an offer of returning to their place later that night, presumably after going to the discos. At this point, I knew we were going to get fucked.

When the waitress returned asking if we wanted another bottle of wine, I clearly said “no,” and Joel followed my lead. After all, we were leaving early the next morning and had to get to bed (we managed to work that into the conversation about as smoothly as they worked their ex-boyfriends in). My suspicions confirmed, the bill was 44,000 forints, which converts to about $240.00. Not surprisingly, the women had no cash. However, the waitress was “kind enough” to show us outside to an ATM. As Joel headed out, I asked to see a menu (having not been, uh, afforded the opportunity before ordering). The energy drinks were $20 each, the shots the same. The bottle of wine was about $120. Sweet.

I asked if the menu was for “stupid tourists,” and tried a bit to fight our way out of it. But Joel was already tapping the cash machine, and by the time he returned, the bill was paid in full. Still slightly in shock (and hoping my mental conversion was way wrong), we left the restaurant with the women. We walked to the corner together where we said our goodbyes, turning down an only slightly veiled offer of “more fun.”

I don’t get seriously angry often. It’s only when I’ve been taken advantage of, betrayed, or, in this case, robbed. The walk home that night was at a fast pace, and I mastered a vernacular in which the word “fuck” assumed nearly every known part of speech. I was furious with the women for clearly taking advantage of us, but in reality, I was probably more upset for allowing it to happen. We should have seen it from a mile away - the restaurant too good for us, and the women, well, we had no business with those women, for any reason. We were set up and knocked down. I would have rather taken my bike and thrown in into the Danube River than spend the money from it’s sale to halve the cost of our night with Joel.

A de-briefing not withstanding, the lessons learned from this night are clear, and I won’t bore you with a drawn-out explanation. I’ve been through it more times in my head during the last 48 hours than anyone could ever dream. I guess it just goes to show that you’ve got to stay sharp all the time. While I was upset for a little while, there’s no way I could let it dampen the previous two months. It’s disappointing that it happened at the end of the trip, but it could have been worse. I still recommend Budapest, but now that recommendation comes with a small caveat.

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