Being Canny With Cons in Seville

You may come across unscrupulous characters in pretty Barrio Santa Cruz.

When you first visit a tourist destination, and your bulls*** sensor is temporarily disabled, unscrupulous individuals or groups may try to take advantage of your good nature. Spain is no different, but fear not: we’ve got the lowdown on how to avoid classic cons in the southern city of Sevilla. Long-term resident Fiona Flores Watson of Scribbler in Seville guides you through potential pitfalls.

In most cities, as a new arrival – whether for a short visit, or to live – you have to stay sharp to avoid falling into certain traps.

Here are a few of the typical rip-offs you may come across in Seville, especially in areas popular with visitors like Santa Cruz and around the cathedral, although many occur in other cities too. Hopefully you’ll never experience any of them, but it’s better to be forewarned – that way, you steer clear of getting into a pickle, losing money and embarrassing yourself in a situation which might spoil your holiday. Much of it is common sense, but some engaños may grab you unawares, especially when you’re caught up in the elation of being away from home, discovering a beautiful city, bathed in sunshine, and with a language you don’t fully understand…

Scenarios in the street

A well-dressed woman with car keys claims her car has broken down and she needs money for petrol, or it has been towed away and she has to pay a taxi fare.

So what should I do? If you believe her, give her 10 euros. Otherwise, say politely you don’t have any cash on you (Lo siento, no tengo efectivo encima).

An English-speaking person, especially in the more touristy areas like barrio Santa Cruz, stops you and says (s)he is waiting for friends to arrive and join him/her from elsewhere. (S)he can’t get any money, and asks you for some cash.

So what should I do? Decide if they’re genuine and act accordingly.

Someone who plies their trade on the street, such as a shoe-shiner, agrees a price and then, while he works, regales you with emotionally-blackmailing tales (quite possibly true) about how financially hard-up he is. When he’s finished the job, he then demands more money than discussed.

So what should I do? Be firm and stick to the price originally agreed (as long as it wasn’t a dos/doce – 2/12 – type verbal misunderstanding).

Gypsies near the cathedral proffer sprigs of “rosemary” (picked from an unidentified nearby shrub), and then try to “tell your fortune”, before asking you to cross their palm with silver. While some people find this quaint and amusing, others resent the intrusion.

So what should I do? Ignore them and walk straight past, unless you’re interested to hear their prediction.

A restaurant terrace in Seville - eating outside will often cost you more.

A restaurant terrace in Seville – eating outside will often cost you more.

Eating and sleeping

When you’re in restaurants, and tapas bars, in Seville (as anywhere) always check the menu carefully for extra charges (service and tax are usually included). One recent unwelcome addition in some establishments, as flagged by Shawn Hennessy of the excellent website Seville Tapas, is the arrival of the cover charge; not only that, some places also charge extra for bread and picos (breadsticks), normally provided free. While a few euros doesn’t seem much, this is not standard practice here, and those euros could buy you another tapas in a place without such extras. Plus, if you’re with a large group, it adds up fast.

So what should I do? Ask to see the menu before sitting down (Me puedes enseñar el menu?), and if necessary, ask if there’s a cover charge. (Hay cubierto?)

In tapas bars with terraces, prices are often higher outside than when you eat at the bar.

So what should I do? Ask to see the menu, and check if there are two columns of prices: barra and terraza. Barra is sitting or standing at the bar, terraza is sitting at a table outside.

As with any restaurant anywhere, but especially in a tourist mecca like Seville – eternally romantic, birthplace of the tapa – always check your bill carefully, whether in a hotel, bar or restaurant. Easily overlooked, especially if you’re on a smooching trip and you don’t want to dwell on unsexy practicalities, but it could save you a few cocktails’ worth of euros.

So what should I do? If there’s any item or charge you don’t agree with, aren’t sure about, or don’t understand, ask the waiter. Be especially vigilant about being charged for more items than you consumed – four beers instead of three; and for mystery dishes you never ordered; and, in hotels, for internet/WIFI, phone calls, movies, and room service charges. It may be an innocent mistake, obviously, but you should check either way.

Coming from the airport

One of the most frequent complaints by visitors to Seville is about their arrival in the city by taxi from the airport. Taxis in Seville have set tariffs for airport trips (around 22-30 euros), which are on display inside the taxi, and which they are obliged by law to apply, but Seville airport taxi drivers are notorious for trying to overcharge their passengers, especially recently-landed foreign tourists. The tariff is divided into three levels: weekdays 7am-9pm; evenings, weekends and holidays; and holiday evenings, with extra charges for luggage, according to size.

So what do you do? I would suggest you bring a copy of the tariff, know exactly what you’re supposed to be paying according to what time and day you’re arriving, and check the amount with the driver before you set off. Alternatively, take the airport bus (4 euros).

Remember that every establishment is legally obliged to have a complaint book. It’s time-consuming, but if you feel you’ve been ripped off, then ask for this and write an account of what happened – although just asking for the book may encourage the offending establishment to change their attitude.

Seville's Cathedral is the haunt for fortune-telling gypsies....

Seville’s Cathedral is the haunt for fortune-telling gypsies….

Useful words

Engaño/estafa – swindle, fraud, con, rip-off

Estafador(a) – swindler, fraudster, con-artist

Engañoso – deceptive, fraudulent

Engañar/estafar – to deceive, swindle, defraud, con

Have you experienced any of these rip-offs (or attempted rip-offs) in Seville? If so, what happened? Or have you got other stories about disreputable characters or practices in other cities in Spain?

Fiona Flores Watson is a blogger and journalist who loves living in Seville, where she has spent the past nine years trying not to look or behave too much like a foreigner begging to be ‘engañada’.

4 Responses

  1. Cat says:

    I especially love the people who laminate pictures of their kids with scotch tape and tell you they have no job, that the wife has just passed, that the kid is stricken with some disease. If I feel especially touched, I typically buy some sort of food item so that I know where my money is going! I was once chased into a supermarket by a woman who was always at the door asking for different items – a carton of milk or a pack of chocolate. Turns out she was a huge scammer!

  2. admin says:

    Yeah, we’ve got the same thing with the guys with the photos of their kids in Barcelona. I’m never sure what to think.

  3. Ryan Taxis says:

    The only ones we came across while living there were the rosemary folks, who are easy to ignore, and the taxi-from-airport scam. We knew it was coming when we first arrived in Sevilla, where he quoted us the proper price and then added on at the end when we got to our destination. It was like €5 and I was way too tired to care.

    I did call bullshit on him and told him I knew what he was on, but that I didn’t want to deal with him at the moment. That was the one and only time I ever let a thing like that slide.

    Good list though. One thing I can definitely say is that I probably ran into the least amount of scammers there vs. any other big city I can think of. As you’ve already blogged about and everyone already knows, Barcelona is the worst haha.

  4. admin says:

    Yeah, Barcelona is the worst. Makes Seville look tame. Still, it’s good to know what to watch out for!

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