"You have an American passport, so maybe we can do you a favor.
These are words that American travellers grew accustomed to twenty or thirty years ago. The sentiment today ranges from self-righteous anger (French Canada) to borderline hostility (Holland, France) to blissful ignorance (Japan). I heard this sentence today when I applied for membership at a hip little boutique gym in Taipei‘s Ximen district.
In Japan we get used to the idea that every customer is treated the same, whether we like it or not. Often, this results in surrealistic moments of inflexibility when people behind a desk refuse the slightest favor or concession in rigid accordance with their company’s rules. What is more infuriating is that anyone who has worked in the Japanese corporate environment understands how poorly thought-out that bible of regulations really is.
Taipei seems different.
At the health club, they were trying to get an idea of who I was, and more importantly, what I was used to paying for training space. They asked me what I paid for my gym in Japan. The truth is that I paid 13,000 yen (111 USD, 3,650 NTD) a month. I was smart enough to say a smaller price, 10,000 yen (85 USD, 2,805 NTD), but not smart enough to use it to a real advantage. In retrospect, I should have said 6,000 yen.
This is what they proposed to me:
- One-time membership fee of 7,699 NTD.
- One-time processing fee of 1,999 NTD.
- Monthly fee of 2,199 NTD.
Of course, I said this was ridiculous. My two-month’s training would come at a total price of 14,100 NTD (428 USD, 50,000 yen). That’s when I heard those magic (and oh-so-alien sounding) words above, and we entered into a lengthy negotiation. In the end, we settled on a two-month lump sum of 7,100 NTD (216 USD, 25,000 yen) which is uncannily close to what I paid at my Japanese gym considering that if I return to Taiwan I can continue at the monthly rate of 2,199 NTD (67 USD, 7,800 yen).
When they found out I spoke Japanese, they wanted to conduct the orientation in Japanese to practice. Interesting.