It was a chilly afternoon in the heart of Washington, D.C., and the talk of a grubby winter refusing to pave way for the much-anticipated spring filled the town and its environs.

I had just attended a two-hour orientation seminar at Georgetown Law School. Hunger pangs conspired with the freezing wind, while my stomach pleaded.

Our instructor assured us that food was just a few meters away— at Union Station— and with a few dollars, we could satisfy our tummies. I never hesitated. I did not ask more questions about cost, taxes or how such sales are transacted. I had enough greenbacks (or so I thought) and my only concern was how to get food.

Armed with tens of dollars, I set off to hunt for a bite, leaving behind the rest of my colleagues who seemed not to be in a hurry. I arrived in ten minutes. The expansive sitting area at the basement of the station was packed to capacity, with traders basking in the glory of brisk business.

Menus overflowed all over the place. But I was not familiar with any food there. Careful not to shoot in the dark by buying what something that could not resonate with my taste buds, I decided to seek the waiter’s help.

“Excuse me Sir, I’m new here and I have never tasted any of these foods before,” I said, wearing a fake smile to conceal the trouble that beset my stomach.

“Just say what ya wanna eat,” he said wryly as he served a young stocky chap who knew exactly what he wanted. The waiter seemed tired and hustled from the peak lunch hour rush.

“Are you decided man? Wanna some chicken, beef or pork?” he asked enticingly.

I nodded and said: “Let me have some chicken, rice and vegetable salad.”

He took a plate and dolled out large quantities of sweet chicken, brown rice and mixed vegetable salad, and handed it to me.

“Nine dollars and 80 cents,” he said.

I comfortably handed him 11 dollars, thinking that I had tipped him with one dollar for helping select a meal.

“This is not enough,” he said commandingly.

“What? The food is nine dollars, man,” I replied with a tinge of disappointment.

“You haven’t paid tax on that price, mister.”

Embarrassed by the many eyes that were turning to witness my drama, I sought to end the row over United States after-purchase-tax row without delay.

“Sorry sir, give me the one dollar and take these five,” I said resignedly.

“Cool,” he said. He handed me three dollars and a few cents’ change after taking the one-dollar tip I had offered. I enjoyed the meal much less after the tax row ruined my appetite.

In Kenya, Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in the price of goods and services.

Tips are not a must, either, because waiters and other service providers are paid commissions and monthly salaries by their employers. However, you are free to appreciate these guys if you are pleased with their services.

The tax mishap left me two times wiser, and whenever I now head to any of the D.C.’s eateries or shopping malls, the trouble that befell me at Union Station reminds me to load my pockets, ready for any shock.