Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Foreigner Tax: Utility Bills Edition

This was going to be my first post of Japan pics, but something happened today that really got my goat.

First, some background: Nana and I use the term "foreigner tax" to describe all those little bits of money we lose as a result of being strangers in a strange land. Normally, the sums are small: a few bucks for misusing our bus cards; a two percent markup on groceries for buying from a big chain store instead of a local market; a little extra in cab fare for drivers who take the scenic route (but with whom we don't have the vocabulary to argue--good thing we only take short cab rides!); and, of course, the 0% interest and exorbitant transfer fees on our US$ current account at the bank. For most of the year, the money hasn't been worth worrying about, and we've just tried to take it in stride as one of the costs of living in a new place.

The last couple months, though, our landlords have been robbing us blind. Three times now they've insisted they never got the previous month's utility payment, though we have receipts, bank records, etc. to show we made the payment on time. Each time, they've double-billed us the following month, and we've paid up after we were given the impression (by others in a similar spot) that if there was a mistake, a credit would simply be applied to the next month's bill. No dice, despite several calls from our resident Korean guru, Paul. So to date: three extra months' worth of utility bills, vanished into thin air.

Now, to be fair, this isn't just a Korean thing: I've heard of American landlords fleecing foreigners under the assumption that they lacked the ability to fight back. But the fact that others are getting hosed, too, doesn't make this any less annoying. Argh!