The term ‘bar fine' as a byword for prostitution could only be spawned in a country that has elevated euphemism to a fine art.
A case in point is describing squalid crap-holes as ‘Comfort Rooms' — or CR for short. That brings us to another Philippine habit of creating acronyms (or, more correctly, initialisations) for everything.
So, in the case of bar fines, when a punter takes a short-term companion from a girly bar they are paying an ERF for a GRO.
ERF is short for ‘Early Release Fee' and a GRO is a ‘Guest Relations Officer'.
Of course, this isn't prostitution — which is illegal in the Philippines — but rather (sarcasm alert) a spontaneous meeting of minds that compels the gentlemen to compensate the bar's owners for depriving them of a GRO.
But, in practice, what is a bar fine in the Philippines?
I'll use Angeles City as a case in point, a place that despite the mayor saying is “no longer sin city”, has by far the densest concentration of girly bars in the country.
Here most of the bars are filled with scantily glad ladies. Often they sway vacantly on stages, not quite dancing to bad music. Others offer choreographed cabaret shows. In either case, if a customer sees a lady he likes, it's up to him to make eye contact and invite her over.
At this point, it's pretty much compulsory to buy her a ‘lady drink'. These cost on average four times a normal drink and tend to be mostly sugar, without too much booze. The cost is split 50-50 between the bar and the girl. Although this doesn't sound like a lot, it's a huge contribution to the salary of the GROs, who are often paid a pitiful basic wage.
If after this drink and chat, you wish to continue your conversation with your new friend elsewhere, you are ready to pay the bar fine, or ERF. In Fields Avenue this is usually about 3000 pesos, or $60. This is split between the girls and the bar.
The unspoken contract is that the girl will have sex with the customer. Exactly what that involves, and how often and for how long, is down to personal negotiation.
Tipping, or at least providing “taxi money” afterwards, is generally expected.
So, that's the facts of the bar fine, but the morality of the matter is a different question all together.
But the hard reality is that many of the girls have very few other options. While poverty remains endemic in the Philippines, there will always be customers paying ERFs for GROs.
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