Thursday, March 22, 2012

Santiago Street Scenes: I save a kid's life under $2.50

My flat has a kitchen, refrigerator. Went to get some Coke Light to have on hand. Go into a "Big John" (a Circle K/7-11 sort of store).

They have shrink-wrapped packs of four one-liter bottles of Coke Light for $3.750 (about $7.50). Hardly cheap, but okay for an urban convenience store. Also got a bag of onions.

I go up to the counter. The cash register guy does not know how to run the register. He is utterly baffled by the Coke Light; pokes ineffectually for nearly 30 seconds at the register.

Other guy, clearly manager, turns toward us. I notice that his face is literally cut to pieces, scarred in a criss-cross of knife cuts from the eyes down. Terrifying guy, short but very powerful, kind of an attack hamster. Scarface starts to yell at register kid, then says, "Four-pack!"

Kid types in "Ford" on the keyboard. Alpha list of products comes up, Four-pack is next. Kid rings it up, and charges me...for FOUR of them! He must not speak even enough English to know numbers up to four. (And that's fair enough, it's a Spanish-speaking country. But a drawback if you work in a store that sells American products).

I start to point and yell. "No! No, no quatro! Solamente UNO four-pack!" and hold up the four-pack. Scarface turns back around, angry at me for yelling. Then he sees where I am pointing. And he whacks the kid! Open hand but really hard, in the back of the head. Kid's glasses go flying onto counter. Scarface starts screaming at him.

Kid is now crying. Rings up the four-pack and the cebollas, comes to $4.450. I give him a $10.000 bill, and he makes change. But he misreads the register, and instead of giving me the change, $5.550, he gives me the charge (both numbers are on the screen), $4.450.

That is, he short-changed me by $1.100. That's a little over $2.30 US, if the $=476 peso rate (from Monday, when I changed money) is still right.

What would you have done? It's only $2.30. And Scarface would certainly have ripped the kid open and eaten his still warm liver if I had said anything. So, I went home.

Was that the right thing to do? The experience raises an interesting question: in effect, we could "price" my willingness to keep quiet. If it had been $10, or $20, would I have still let the kid go? For a larger amount of money, I might have wondered if it was all a trick.


  1. Looks like it's time to find a new bodega.

    Y'know, in the States, the poor kid probably wouldn't be able to hold a minimum wage job for very long. At least he's able to get some on-the-job training where he is (assuming he survives for long).

  2. Hard to judge this purely rationally, since it seemed to have been such an emotional situation.

    But yes, I probably would have done the same, and would never go to this store again. (However, I do not see the point in drinking Coke Light anyway. Aren't there any tasty Chile drinks?)

  3. Seriously, that was the most harrowing read I've ever had on an economics blog. I would have definitely paid 2.30 to not see that kid getting his shit rocked. However, I'm a poor college student, so once the price reached double digits I'd start to become okay with it.

  4. The errors were systematic in one direction: he always rung it up as you paying too much. As such, it seems safe to say it was a scam and they knew you were a foreigner. The two obviously rehearsed how to induce the most sympathy from westerners.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?