A few years ago, we hired a mini-cab (a type of taxi) to take us from Kensington to Golders Green. When we entered the cab, we heard music being played on the car’s cassette player. It sounded Russian to me. I asked the driver about it and he confirmed that it was Russian. He told us that he was from Afghanistan and had lived in Russia for a couple of years before settling in London. We began chatting as we drove northwards towards Golders Green. He told us that during the day he sold shoes in his own shop and drove his cab in the evening. We engaged in an amicable conversation.
When we arrived at our destination, I asked how much we owed him. He said:
“Nothing at all.”
“But, we must pay you something,” I said.
“No, nothing. You are my friend. I cannot ask you to pay me,” he explained.
For a few moments, I was flummoxed, at a loss as how to proceed. On the one hand, he said he did not want to be paid. On the other, he had done a good job for us, which needed rewarding. Then, I said to him, handing over a £10 note:
“If we can’t pay you, take this as a present for your children.”
He accepted the money without objection. £10 was the normal fare for that journey in those days.
We booked another mini-cab for our return journey. By coincidence, it was driven by someone from Afghanistan. Although he was not as friendly as the outward bound driver, there was nothing to complain about him. When we arrived at our home, we asked him how much we owed. He answered:
“Anything you like.”
I paid him the £10, which we usually pid for that journey, and the driver was happy with that.
Shortly before that day of Afghan mini-cab drivers, I had finished reading a book about travelling in Afghanistan., An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliott. In it, he describes shopping in rural Afghanistan. The customer is not quoted a price, but has to make an offer. If the offer is too low, the seller will look insulted and hurt. If it is too high, everyone else in the shop will laugh at the customer. I suspect that it was on this basis that the two mini-cab drivers operated with us. They must have detected our familiarity with eastern ways and customs. Had we been typical Anglo Saxon customers, they might have simply quoted a price.