A Nice Taxi Driver

I recently had the opportunity to take taxis in both Japan and Britain. It had been a while since I had taken a taxi anywhere but fading memories and numerous complaints about cabbies in both countries had instilled in me certain prejudices. In Britain, you might be driven by a casual racist who has yet to grasp the difference between an immigrant, an illegal immigrant and an asylum seeker, and in Japan, apparently, you had a good chance of being expensively driven around a city by a cigarette-reeking man who had no idea where anything actually was. Were they really like this, I wondered?

I took a taxi in Japan from my house to the local bus station in order to get a night bus to Narita Airport. It was raining heavily and our house has a garden which means a car can’t park right up close to the door. The cab arrived, and just as I was about to make a dash for it with my luggage, the driver got out of the car with an umbrella and signaled for me to wait. He came up our driveway, took my suitcase and walked back to the car to put it in the trunk. Then he returned for my wife’s suitcase and did the same. Then he returned for us. He actually came back so that he could walk us to his cab under the protection of his umbrella. Just before we set off, he did ask for clarification as to the best way to get to our destination but he then drove us there with polite non-intrusive conversation, took our bags out of the trunk and wished us a safe trip. We paid him the fare. He did not expect a tip. It was a pain-free experience.

In the UK, we required another taxi after our plane had landed. The driver sat in the warmth of his cab and did little more than grunt when we told him our destination and struggled to get our bags into the car. It wasn’t raining, but I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t have an umbrella handy to keep his passengers dry. He did little to engage us in conversation, so whether he was up-in-arms about immigrants or not, I don’t know, but I do know that he enjoyed swearing aloud at other drivers. But at least he seemed to know where he was going.

I paid our fare when we arrived and tipped him as is the custom. He barely acknowledged receiving the money. I got out of the taxi and, being accustomed to Japanese taxis and their automatic opening and closing doors, forgot to close the door. ‘Oi close the door you daft git!’ the driver shouted. There may have been little malice in his tone, but that was after a generous tip. Who knows what he might have called me had I not bothered with the gratuity.

Neither taxi was particularly cheap, but I have to say the Japanese version was more pleasant. I’m not sure why taxi drivers get tips in Britain – it clearly doesn’t improve the service, and surely it can’t simply be to congratulate the driver on getting us to our destination without crashing. He’s supposed to be quite good at driving. And anyway I don’t tip train drivers, bus drivers or pilots for taking me places even though I really do feel immense gratitude to the man in charge of a plane that carries me safely through the air.

I like the Japanese way – no tipping and no evident decline in service standards. In Britain I felt my tip to the taxi driver merely helped me get a lesser insult and I was tipping serving staff in restaurants for not being openly hostile. I am aware of the arguments in favor of tipping and there may be merit in some, but if we can get polite customer service without a gratuity in Japan is it too much to expect at least a token gesture towards improved service in countries where tipping is expected? Is extra payment really required just to thank a driver for letting me listen to his impressive command of expletives or a server for not spitting in my food?

 

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16 Responses to A Nice Taxi Driver

  1. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Best taxi drivers I remember are in the Republic of Ireland. They have the best of both worlds: very helpful and don’t expect a tip, like Japanese taxi drivers, but also have a penchant for good conversation. I lived there for a year and miss that in American taxi drivers who are just as bad as the British ones. People get culturally entitled I guess.

  2. Hanta says:

    This was an excellent post which sums up my thoughts exactly. I have just returned home from Scotland and my experience was exactly the same. Indeed, I even saw a taxi driver sit on his arse as a really old woman struggled to get out of the car and walk across the snow to her house. The useless, fat bastard. Japanese taxi drivers are awful with directions though… but at least you both work it out somehow in the end.

  3. Mattn says:

    I don’t think you can compare customer service levels in Japan and England. I’ve been living back in Blighty for 8 years and the service levels are so much lower across the board. You get the odd exception but generally the difference in attitude is phenomenal…..and they want/expect a tip. I literally never tip in England, not because I’m tight (some people may beg to differ) but because on the whole they simply don’t deserve it.

    • Agree – it was embarrassing having my Japanese wife experience such poor service almost from the moment we got off the plane.

      • Jeffrey says:

        I can never remember a bad taxi ride in Japan and many cabbies were kind of chatty after they determined that I spoke at least some Japanese. And the fact that they were comfortable with one having to run into the apartment to get the fare when I was short funds late at night is simply remarkable.

        I don’t take many taxis in Seattle, but on one of the last trips my wife and I (and the driver) were almost killed as our foreign born cabbie nearly turned into the wrong lanes at high speed on trip home from the airport.

        During the three years we lived in New York we had just one native New Yorker cabbie and the rest were either South Asia or African immigrants, none of whom seemed to really know where they were going unless it was a straight shot up Broadway.

        I and I can never remember a cabbie in the U.S. offering to help with the luggage. The best way to get from an airport here is either by hotel owned mini buses or by car service. The extra cost for the latter is worth it given the lousy service and often decrepit vehicles used by most cab companies in the U.S.

      • Charles R Kerekes says:

        May I use your article in my ‘Taxistand’ newsletter. Maybe I can get a little ‘good’ to rub off.

  4. Rob says:

    I will tell you that we have a lot of foreigner here that drive cabs. And for the most part, people do not care for them. Not that they are racist. but they will not care much for the customer. They drive like they are still in India, or Africa. The blast the heat, talk on the cell phone when driving, (or yell into it) they will chat up single females, sometimes very strongly, they will not help people with bags, or anything like that.

    We use to have great Taxi divers here in the US. Or at least where I live. They were not independent contractors, but they were employees of the Taxi firm. They were paid well, and got tips too. They knew the city, and were dressed very nicely. But when they went to the independent contractors, it all went down the tubes. It got Very expensive to drive a Taxi. And if you could come up with the weeks lease, and other permit cost, and had a fairly good driving record. You were in. Its the onyl job that many people can get. And the firm, and the city know that, and they screw them left and right, and make it hard for them to make a buck. They work very long hours. 12 plus a day. Some have been known to sleep in the Taxi during slow times, and work longer that that. You guys have no idea all the people that want money from a Taxi driver.
    Now, granted, you always will get more with a good attitude. Maybe not then, but at some time. Maybe a call back or something. But some guys get really discouraged. And they are mad all the time.

    They also have a good share of runners too. People that will not pay at the end of a run. And they can not do a thing about it. They can not even write it off of their taxes.

    Well, I am not making excuses for the guys rude behavior. But I just wanted to let you in on what some Taxi drivers go threw. And it might effect them more than they should.

    All the best.

  5. Ken says:

    It is hard to imagine Japanese taxi driders took longer way intentionally.
    If you kew it was not the shortest way, you should have asked the reason.
    I think you know taxi fare in Japan counts not only distance but also spent time.
    Because you seem to have lived too long in Japan as you are used to automatic door.
    http://ampontan.wordpress.com/too-long-in-japan/

    • I didn’t say a driver took me the wrong way intentionally, or even suggest it. I think you have misunderstood the post if you thought that.

      • Ken says:

        What do you mean by, “being expensively driven around a city by a cigarette-reeking man who had no idea where anything actually was.”?

      • I mean that there is a certain stereotype of taxi drivers in Japan not being sure where places are, and that taxis are not cheap. That is all I meant – that I have heard such views expressed by people on several occasions. I wasn’t implying any kind of deception and agree with you that being purposely taken a long way to a destination is very unlikely in Japan.

  6. Ken says:

    ‘numerous complaints about cabbies in both countries’ seems general tendency in Japan.
    >a certain stereotype of taxi drivers in Japan not being sure where places are,
    Those who become taxi drivers are increasing in Japan by recession, aren’t they?
    And those who have become taxi drivers very lately do not know the way, do they?
    >I have heard such views expressed by people on several occasions.
    You are mixing your paticular experience and others’ hearsay.
    If you are confident that the way is wrong, you have only to claim to the driver.
    If the guy is convinced, he will deduct the portion from fare.

    • You seem to be taking what is nothing more than a lighthearted piece about taxi drivers a bit too seriously!

      “Numerous complaints in BOTH countries” simply means that people often complain about taxis. That’s all.

      I don’t know if taxi drivers are increasing and I don’t know how long the drivers I have experienced have been driving. It’s not relevant. However, new drivers in London must take a test called The Knowledge to show that they do know how to get to places in the best way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Knowledge#The_Knowledge

      Yes, I’m mixing hearsay and personal experience. What’s your point? If you had read the piece carefully, you would have noticed that I then wondered how much truth was in what I had heard and my own fading memories before going on to praise the Japanese driver.

      I sometimes take taxis because I don’t know the best way to get somewhere. I expect the taxi driver to know, but if he doesn’t I may not be able to tell him where he is going wrong. So how do I know he is unsure where he is going? Because he asks me several times about the location or thinks aloud. You’re right in that a driver who knows he has taken a bad route or too long to get somewhere might adjust the fare, but I wasn’t suggesting anything to do with unfair prices etc in my piece. Nor was I implying any sort of deception.

      I try to write in a way that makes people smile. It seems to work for some, but I think you seem a bit sensitive to the slightest perceived criticism of Japan. There is no malice in my piece. I am happy for people to disagree with me, but you are disagreeing with points I didn’t make!

  7. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Not to belabor this subject, but an interesting story. My co-workers went on a business trip last year to the People’s Republic of China, particular Beijing, and they told me later that taxi drivers were extremely unreliable. They weren’t bad or dishonest people, but they were often people from remote provinces who were barely literate and didn’t know the city, and couldn’t even follow very basic directions because they couldn’t read them. My co-workers had the Hilton hotel written out in Chinese, situated on a well-known major road, with directions and everything, but it still took them three separate taxi drivers to get there.

  8. Ken says:

    >I think you seem a bit sensitive to the slightest perceived criticism of Japan.
    No. On the contrary, I could not but feel your criticism to those taxi drivers and my sympathy with them.
    Usually, taxi drivers do not have ability and time to read this kind of English Blog.
    I wonder whether they have any objections if they are supposed to have expensively driven around a city.
    How do you pronounce, ‘Kanon’, ‘Kannon’ and ‘Canon’?
    Even if just intonation is different, it would often sound different word.

    • Again, you are not understanding. Would you find it objectionable if I said, “Pilots fly people expensively around the world?” I doubt it, because that is what they do. They fly people around the world and it happens to be quite expensive. Taxi drivers drive people around (that is indisputable) and some people think it is expensive (that, I suppose, depends on your financial situation). I’ve tried to make this clear but you still don’t seem to be able to grasp the point, so I’ll try again. I did not suggest they were charging unfairly high prices, and I certainly didn’t suggest that there was any deception involved or any attempt to overcharge a customer. I don’t believe that for a second. So, tell me, now that I have made it perfectly clear that there was no intention to suggest any unfair practices or deception, what is it that you find so objectionable? If you can’t accept that you have misunderstood my intention, then we will just have to agree to disagree on this one!

      Your comment about ‘Kanon”, “Kannon’ and ‘Canon’ is irrelevant. Of course, there are addresses that sound similar or are confusing (as there are in any country – not just Japan) but so what? There may be many reasons why a driver isn’t sure about where to go, many good and justifiable reasons, but perhaps that just exemplifies my point that sometimes they make mistakes. I didn’t say they did it on purpose, I didn’t say they deliberately took people to the wrong place or pretended not to know the way. I just said that there is a certain view that they sometimes don’t seem to know where things are. There may be a very good reason for this. All you have done with your example is to give an excuse or reason for something that you suggest doesn’t happen anyway. What exactly were you trying to demonstrate?

      Let me state again that my post was in praise of a Japanese taxi driver. I would be far more offended by the post were I a UK taxi driver.

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