Horseplay, International

8. Kazakhstan: Not the Best Best Western

Hey! I want to teach you how to negotiate in the FORMER SOVIET REPUBLIC OF KAZAKHSTAN

Here are some interesting numbers facts:  

There are only nine lighters in the whole of London.  

Every day, an average of eight people call the helpline on the side of the floss dispenser.

Seven out of ten men think that it “still counts” if a woman gives you her email address when you requested a phone number.

A friend of mine once spent six hours looking around a hospital for the sexual health clinic because he didn’t want to ask anyone for directions as that would involve telling them where he was going. 

There are two members of my family who I will never speak to again because of something very spiteful they said about Mambo Number Five.

One in four people thinks that the capital of Cambodia is Sean Penn.

My Uncle Roy met all three of his wives and all three of his best men at a pub called The Trout.

There are two types of people in this world. One who says “Stephen Hawking” and one who says “Stephen Hawkins”.

Only one couple in the history of modern tourism has decided to extend their stay at the Best Western Astana.

Eric G.E Zuelow

We have decided to stay in Kazakhstan for an extra day. Partly because we find the place intriguing and want to see a bit more. Partly because we made a mistake with the booking and our flights not till the day after tomorrow.

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There are over four thousand Best Westerns in the world and just one in all of the five Post-Soviet Stans. And we’re in it! We’re in Kazakhstan because its unfamiliarity has enticed us in. This place is about as familiar to us as subtlety is to an episode of Will and Grace. The strangeness of Kazakhstan is what led us to the accustomed comfort of The Best Western. We want to see unusual stuff, but we don’t want anything unusual about our sleep time. The Best Western is the lukewarm recognisable blanket we needed.

In theory, weird stuff can’t happen in a recognisable chain in an unrecognisable place because there are protocols. You know what you’re getting if you go in any McDonalds in the world: A damn good french fry and one of those weird under-the-skin spots the day afterwards. And you think you know what you’re getting if you stay in The Best Western: a firm mattress and a triumph of an omelette man.

According to Wikipedia, Best Western has 4,195 hotels and 1,254 employees. Which means that only one in three Best Westerns has a singular employee which doesn’t sound right. I looked into it further and discovered that The Best Western is not a chain. It’s a “Marketing Cooperative”. Up until 1981, they called themselves a chain, but a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court decided that they were abusing their nonprofit status by doing this. So now, they’re a Marketing Cooperative, which I think means none of the hotels has anything to do with each other besides the name so they can do whatever they like.

I think, in my life, I’ve probably stayed at 11 Best Westerns. I wouldn’t call it brand loyalty but there’s something between us. Anyway, I wanted to extend our stay but my swindle-able face was getting us mugged off at every turn in Kazakhstan. There was something about me that made everyone here quadruple the price of the bill and I was worried. The place I thought was a homely chain hotel is not anything of the sort, so odds are, they were going to mug me off, too. We had to find a non-face-to-face way to extend our stay.

I’d heard a lot of great things about the internet so we had a look on there. But, even though there are 150 rooms in our hotel and a maximum of three other people staying here, the internet said that everything was full.

I begrudgingly headed to reception, ready for someone to charge me $200 for a room we paid $40 for the night before.

“Hello, I’d like to extend my stay”

“Just the one night?”

“Yes, please”

“The manager deals with negotiations”

“Sorry, I think maybe I misspoke. I wouldn’t like a negotiation. I just want to pay what the room costs. I just want to give you $40 and get on with my weird day”.

“The Manager says he will be 15 minutes”

I sighed. “Ok, I’ll just go and wait in my room”

“He says he’ll be five minutes”.

It turned out that you even have to haggle over the amount of time someone is intending on keeping you waiting. WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD.

Five minutes came and went. I’m almost certain the Manager was sat in the office right behind reception and the waiting game was part of the process. This was disappointing. And I’ve had my fair sure of disappointment: I recently found out that I can no longer wear hats because they make me look too much like the man from the Incognito Window.


The Manager turned up. He was a bloody large bloke who had somehow managed to find a suit that was oversized. He started off proceedings efficiently and succinctly: “The room is $80”.

I rolled up my sleeves and put on my negotiating hat. Then quickly took it off because of the Incognito Window Man thing. “Look it can’t be 80. We paid 40 for it”.

He nodded and started stroking his chin: “Ok, I will negotiate”.

“Oh, right. Nice!”

“But I won’t go any lower than 20!”

“Jesus, what? 20 is fine!”

“Perfect. Cash or card?”

He got out the card machine and I got my card out. This couldn’t have been right: “Sorry, I just need to double check, it’s $20?”

He got out a calculator, typed it a two and a zero, then handed it over. In this country where you have to haggle to get the right to haggle, he charged me half price for the room ten seconds into the negotiation. I didn’t understand it but good god I respected it.

There are three things in this world that I would really love to know. If a deaf person goes to court, is it still called a hearing? If four out of five people suffer from diarrhoea, does that mean that the other person enjoys it? And, how the bloody hell does accounting work in Kazakhstan if everyone just makes up their own prices?




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