An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Difficult Post About Personal Responsibility

The people who should read this post probably won't. The ones I'm talking about for sure don't read tango blogs. So the rest of you should rest easy. And as a matter of fact, you might as well just skip on over to the next post as what I'm about to say doesn't apply to you.

So as much as it pains me to write about this delicate and sensitive topic, I have to, if only to just put it out there. Maybe it might help someone sometime to gain some awareness.

It's a problem in the milongas ever since I've danced tango in Buenos Aires. I know the lay of the land. I know that if I drink so much as a water at a milonga I need to pay for it. But how many times have I sat with unknown foreign women who just gathered up their shoes and left me with their bill? And women I didn't even know, who just happened to be sitting next to me.

And now that Ruben and I have a big table at Los Consagrados and extend an open invitation to everyone who cares to join us, this syndrome of forgetting to pay for consummations is multiplied. Last night were two who forgot, and it wasn't just water, but food and double espressos. I know it's only forgetting because they are distracted by the milonga and where they are going to next, and don't mean to "run out on the check." They are very nice women. (The funny thing is that it's always tourist women, not men, and not locals, who are all too aware of having to pay.)

I'm sure they never thought about what happens if they forget to cover their check, but it's the waitress who has to pay out of her tips.

Or if it's at our table, Ruben pays, so as to not stiff the waitress.
Those of us last night who were left at the table at the end of the milonga had a pow-wow, and it was decided that I (ME!) had to ask each and every person at our table when they left the milonga if they had paid their check. Ruben and I usually order a bottle of champagne, but people forget that the price should be shared if they drink a glassfull. Last night our group went through two bottles, but some didn't think about who was paying.

Any suggestions for me out there? I HATE this! If I could, I would invite everybody and pay for everybody (which we always do when it's Ruben's or my birthday). But we can't do it every week, as much as we'd love to. But we will never stiff the waitress.

I'm having fun too, dancing, and talking to everyone, and I don't want to be the check monitor.
Please help!


Johanna said...

Oh Cherie. That really sucks. I know just what you mean too, about having to be everyone's "mommy". I cannot imagine just "forgetting" to pay for my share. Are people really that distracted?

What about a pretty little table tent to remind people to pay for their share? Or perhaps if the subject is approached in the same manner as teaching folks about the "codigos" at a milonga? You know, "it is customary for people here to share drinks and nibbles, as well as paying for it."

Johanna said...

PS - in fact, I would never run a tab, precisely because I didn't want to run the risk of forgetting to pay after a long, happy night of dancing. I'd "pay as I go".

tangocherie said...

It's a sticky wicket, isn't it?
I so appreciate your ideas, Johanna.

Maybe if everyone is just more aware of a potential awkward situation, they will be quicker to cover their own expenses.

The mood at the table is always so festive and fun, like a party, and I think people just get swept away.

Maybe we could ask the waitress to charge as they go, but it seems like so much extra work for her. But I'm going to ask her on Saturday! Let Vivi be Mom; I don't want to be at the milonga.

tinatangos said...

Hola Cherie!
You know, I thought about that in the taxi going away from Los Consagrados - you and Ruben shared ´some of your champagne with me and I owe you!
Will you be there this Saturday? Please let me invite the two of you to a bottle. You deserve it!

I agree with the concept of folks paying as they go. At almost every milonga I go to, I pay immediately when the waitress brings me something because then I don't have to think about it anymore - best to get it out of the way so fun can be had by all. Why not mention this to the waitress?

Elizabeth said...

Alan and I did this to Cherie and Ruben. We were truly just spaced out, but of course we caught up with them and paid. The oay as you go might be better. This
makes me want to be at the table again enjoying the bright and fun atmosphere, dancing, talking, living life.

Caroline said...

Ay yi yi, I was one of the ones who forgot. I only remembered when I got home. Felt terrible! Did pay you back next time I saw you which was at Gricel.
I like the suggestion of asking the waitress to ask for prompt payment from whoever made an order. That way, everyone's paid their share.
As for splitting champagne, maybe before you order, you can ask everyone if they'd be interested in chipping in for a bottle. That way, if they declined, it's pretty clear they are not having any. But I am sure they would be because it adds to the festive air that always surrounds your table.

tangocherie said...

These are all good comments!

It's more complicated than perhaps it sounds because everyone arrives separately at different times, and also leaves separately and at different times. (Actually just writing more about this now makes me feel penny-pinching and small.)

I love being a hostess, which to me is inviting people to partake, but the practical side makes it not possible every week. We were 11 or 12 people last Saturday. And some ordered food.

The only comfortable way for me, is to urge people in general to be more responsible for themselves, to know what they consume and to offer to pay for it. Not to wait for me to remind them, which can be a downer for me, especially when we all have been having so much fun.

n a n c y said...


About the peeps stiffing you on the bill: Are
those students who may think it is included in the
cost of the lessons? Are you charging for folks to
come sit at your table? I ask only because it is not
uncommon for ballroom teachers to treat their
students, especially when 'out in public' dancing. I
always offer to pay ( or pay as I go for my personal
order) but if someone asks for an extra glass and
offers me some of their champagne, I would not think
to pay for ' my share'. I equate that with: I have
some gum/hard candies/cough drops and offer you some.
I would not expect you to pay.

tangocherie said...

Good point, Nancy!

What happens is, we have an open invitation to all our students and friends to sit with us at Los Consagrados on Saturday afternoons, as long as they let us know they are coming so we can reserve their places. This is the only milonga that we regularly attend.

However, we also have a service, outlined here:
of Milonga Accompaniment when we take people to whatever milonga, explain the codigos, make introductions, dance a little if desired by the clients, and in this case, we pay the entradas and drinks, and also provide basic transportation. There is a discount for our students. We would not be there if it weren't for a client who requests that we take them.

And we also provide Taxi Dancing, but that's a whole other service.

So I like to think of Saturdays at Los Consagrados as a community of friends and tangueros, but not as a "service" which includes free drinks and snacks. Most of the people who join us at our table every week have absolutely nothing to do with "business."

juju ariel said...

I know you posted this awhile ago, but I encounter the same problem all the time in Cairo (not at milongas, because there are only about two regular milongas here, only one that is weekly)... but the advice works the same.

Whenever I am in a big group, host, or am put in charge of "collecting" the bill, I always use the same phrase. I introduce myself, small talk for 30 seconds, and say, "To let you know, there is no minimum charge here, so you only need to pay for what you order. Enjoy yourself..." &etc.

By saying "there is no minimum charge", you act like you're doing someone a favor by warning them in advance if they have to pay X amount of money (entrance fee, etc) - and you are also not being rude by suggesting someone wouldn't pay his/her bill.

Then everyone is on the same page. You're here, it's fun, you pay.

This 1 minute conversation has often saved me a lot of embarrassment and money by the end of the night...

all the best

tangocherie said...

Hola Justine,

Thanks so much for your comment! (And by the way, I've added your blog to my tango blogroll. So exciting to have a blogger from Cairo!)

Since I wrote this post 1 1/2 years ago, I'm sorry to say the situation hasn't changed. I was wrong to say it's only foreign women who do it, as since then I've noticed it's also locals and foreign men (men less often).

We requested long ago that the waitress charge at the moment of service, but somehow the situation still arises. I had a general meltdown a couple of weeks ago on this topic, and also because some folks (women) get upset when they arrive late and can't get the preferred seats.

There are also those who complain to me about how much or how little they dance. People just have to assume personal responsibility for their good time; I can't do it for them.

Nancy, re: the bottle of champagne issue--I'm not talking about us offering some to someone, but those who request a glass from our bottle, or often, demand one, as in:
"Well, don't I get any champagne?"

And Justine, there is a "minimum consumacion" in the milongas here--a water or soft drink.