Hail a cab or call an Uber in any city in the U.S. or Canada and the driver will likely look at you funny if you get in the front seat. But in places like Costa Rica or Colombia, opting for the backseat is considered rude and snobby.
This is but one of the customs that Americans and Canadians use without thinking twice. But when traveling abroad, they will only out you as a tourist; if you a long time visitor or living in the country, you are just plain rude.
I have struggled with for a long time and still do.
Getting in the front seat with an Uber driver seems natural, not so when it comes to the taxis.
I can’t explain it, it’s just natural for me to pull the back open to get in in a taxi but automatically reach from the front door in an Uber car. In fact, I can’t even picture sitting in the back of an Uber if I am the only passenger.
I suppose it’s like getting in a friend’s car, whereas with a taxi, I don’t see the driver as such.
But, I think it has more to do with how one pays for the service. Let me explain.
With a taxi, at the end of the trip, I have to reach into my pocket to pull out my wallet. Do I really want a stranger looking into my what I consider a private moment? During the ride my eyes focus on the meter, mentally I start to think of how I am going to pay for the ride, that is what bills am I going to hand over, that 20k or a small bills or coins. Do I tip? All this makes it a business transaction. I wouldn’t sit next to the driver of the bus or a train conductor, would I?
I am not trying to be snobby or rude, just seems the right place to be in a taxi. For Costa Ricans, however, most women will sit in the back seat, while men (especially if riding alone) will sit in the front.
But, with Uber, there is no ‘business’ transaction. You get in the car, the driver already knows you by name, enjoy some conversation and then, at the end of the trip, you say goodbye. Sitting in the front seat just seems natural.
The same natural action was in Cuba last year. On business, as a private guide for a diplomat group on official business in the island, I hired a limo for the week. It was more natural for me to sit in the front seat with the driver when riding alone than in the back seat.
When I pick up people at the airport in San Jose (or Liberia at times), I usually offer them a choice of front or back. While many single travelers will chose the front, just as many will the back. In two recent cases, both confirmed billionaires (a Canadian and an American), they chose to ride in the front with me. Most, however, choose the back seat.
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