Ch-ch-change: How to make Beijing taxi drivers happy

So happy (photo:


Beijing has its fair share of undesirable taxi drivers: the surly (who avoid eye contact, emit disparaging sighs and respond with moody grunts instead of words), the stinky (did someone leave a garlic, stale cigarette and dirty diaper sandwich in the car?) and the stubborn (who refuse to turn down the radio to properly hear the directions and, when those directions are finally understood, decide to argue about the suggested route you have successfully taken a thousand times).

Yes, those taxi drivers exist. But the vast majority of Beijing taxi drivers are decent guys and gals who are polite, who do their best to get you to your destination, and who work long and hard hours. Given this, and because I am (in theory) a people person, I try to make them happy if I can. And one way of doing that is to provide the right of payment.

Consider the following situation: You take a short late-night ride home and the bill comes to rmb11. Here are standard options for paying that fare and how they will likely influence the cab driver. (I assume five things: you are using no counterfeit bills; no bills so beat up the driver doesn’t want them; no small change such as mao or fen, and no atypical payments, such as using eleven rmb1 notes, nor are you leaving a tip.)



A worst-case scenario unless the taxi driver wants to get rid of his small change. Even if he is happy to get rid of those bills, you might get a gruff grunt because he assumes you were being inconsiderate by handing over such an amount, you selfish jerk. The only other time this amount would make him happy is if he can slip you that fake rmb50 note someone else slipped him.


rmb101 (rmb100 + rmb1)

This is slightly better than giving rmb100, since you have at least shown consideration and allowed him to round the change to the nearest rmb10. Make a show of trying to find smaller notes — check at least three pockets — before handing over this amount and you might escape with little or no sighing / grumbling.



rmb50 and rmb51  (rmb50 + rmb1)

These differ from rmb100 and rmb101 cases only in that the driver will have to surrender less change. He still might get slightly annoyed since the fare is but one-fifth of these amounts and/or because he will have to spend an extra few seconds to check if you are slipping him a fake rmb50 note. (I have noticed taxi drivers are more careful about checking rmb50 than rmb100 notes.)



rmb20 and rmb21 (rmb20 + rmb1)

These amounts are perfectly acceptable since your fare is about half. By providing rmb21, the driver can hand back a single rmb10 note and this gives you a solid change of getting a slight nod / grunt of approval. The rmb20 is a little less considerate but there is really no reason for anyone to get upset.


rmb11 (rmb10 + rmb1)

The exact amount: You hand over the cash, he doesn’t need to count change, and everyone parts way in good spirits. You might even get a nod of approval and a smile. But there is one amount that is even better…



rmb11 (rmb5 + rmb5 + rmb1)

Why? Most taxi drivers have their notes ordered by value in billfold, pouch, paper-clipped bundle or dubious looking handkerchief. If you provide a rmb10 note and a rmb1 note, the driver must first find the rmb10 section and insert one note and then flip to the rmb1 section and insert the other note. This involves two insertions and is wasted time defined.

With two rmb5 and a rmb1 notes, the driver simply finds where the rmb5 section ends and the rmb1 section begins and inserts all three bills at once, a one-stop service, except he’s performing it on himself – with your assistance. Expect a nod, a smile and perhaps even a hug, you big harmonious society-promoting lug.

9 thoughts on “Ch-ch-change: How to make Beijing taxi drivers happy”

  1. Also, any late night trips to maggie’s it is only right to share a hot dog with the driver.

  2. RMB11 for a late night fare????? Good God man, I’ll deal with the Beijing surliness any day if our prices down here in Shanghai were that cheap.

  3. haha, the seatbelt. let’s not recommend not using one just to please the driver. just the other day my colleague came to work with about ten cuts to his face; BJ taxi, no seatbelt, front seat, low-speed prang. although I’ve heard the comment 至于吗!from a Beijing taxi driver (yes it was more than a grunt) when I was buckling-up, usually cab drivers can understand that certain flavours of foreigners actually perceive risk differently to themselves, and won’t take it as an insult… my two cents…

  4. @ Matt and Ben,

    Yes, I love that “What, you don’t trust my driving?” attitude. (No, I *do* trust you, it’s all the other drivers who scare me.

    Luckily, I’ve only been in one accident, although it unfortunately involved a strained neck and came about 15 minutes before something that actually involved a lot of neck craning: this pole-dancing contest.

    Cheers, Boyce

  5. I spend something in the area 20-30 hrs in taxis a month, I’d say about 90% are nice, friendly, interesting or at the very least acceptable guys. The other 10% are complete c**ts. How do you deal with the 10%?

    There’s really no practical way of reporting unscrupulous, illegal of dishonest drivers. Its the wild west out there.

  6. Most insightful post of the season, Boyce! These are the things I think about but never communicate to anyone because I think I am too OCD! Keep up the good work and keep reminding me that I’m not the only crazy one! ;p

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