Tag Archives: rip off

Haggle Like a Pro – The Fine Art of Cheapness

typical asian market

It happens all the time.  The minute I approach a vendor at a marketplace in Mexico, Cuba, Thailand, wherever – the price shoots up drastically.  It is as though as a foreigner I either have to to endure being ripped off or prove my mettle as a haggler.  If you have shopped anywhere other than home in a setting where price setting is flexible, you know what I am talking about.  The hiked-up prices can either be seen as an insult or as a challenge.  Choose the latter and try the following steps to walk off with great deals:

1.  Refuse whatever the first price offer is, even if it sounds like a bargain by your home standards.  This is the beginning of the dance and even the vendor himself will be disappointed if you bow out and pay full price.

2.  Say that you can buy the same thing anywhere else for far cheaper and suggest a price that is 30% of the original price (It helps to read your guide book and find out the going rate for things; make sure your offer is a little below the going rate).

3.  Smile and laugh at the vendor as he starts to make you sound special.  (This happens in different ways depending on where you are.  In the Philippines you will be referred to as “my pren [friend]”.)  In most places you will be told what price the vendor is willing to offer “just for you”.  The price will only have gone down slightly at this point.

4.  By now the vendor will know that you are on to his tricks.  This is your time to shine.  Try: “I am not a rich American, that price is crazy.  Give it to me for (40% of original asking price).  I’ll send all the dumb tourists your way.” If you can muster it and if local culture is reasonably tactile, make some kind of physical contact at this point – shake his hand, put your arm around his shoulder, give him a fist bump… this will reinforce what you are saying.

5.  Tactics will now change.  The vendor, if he has not yet caved, will tell you that he would be robbing himself to give the item for your suggested price.  He will also begin referring to his latest offer as the “final price”.

6.  Play by his rules.  Counter by saying that your latest offer is your final price and deliberately let your eyes wander to other vendors with similar products at the market or make reference to another stand you’ve seen with far better prices.

7.  The vendor may give in at this point.  If he doesn’t, you have a choice: If the price he is offering is acceptable per the going rate, buy the item. But if he stands his ground and the price is still too high, smile, shake your head and say, “Sorry, too much for me,” and confidently walk off.  I can’t overstate the need for confidence as you do this.

8. Chances are you will be called back as soon as he thinks you are serious about walking out on the deal.  Generally, some kind of deal is better than no deal, especially when a tourist has dollars.  If the vendor can give you a bargain, he will at this point.

If these steps do not work and you are not called back, there are generally other vendors selling the same thing close-by.  Persistence will get you a deal.  Better yet, send a local friend on her own to buy the item.  She’ll get a fair price.

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Bjorn Karlman

Rudest Cities on the Planet

Angry driver with dollar bills.
Rude in any language: Moneygrubbing taxi drivers

Get any two world travelers bored enough and they’ll start trading war stories about the rudest cities they’ve ever visited.  This, of course, is a classic exercise in one-upmanship. The first guy will make his obligatory point about the obnoxious Parisian shop keeper he met: “he spoke English perfectly but wouldn’t help me.”

The fellow traveler will counter with some horror story about being cut off right by the turnstiles for the Hong Kong MTR  (Mass Transit Railway), getting elbowed while boarding her train and then pickpocketed – all on a simple two-stop trip to Kowloon Station to catch her airport connection: “They even stole my ticket!!”  The back and forth can continue for huge stretches of time.

I wanted to get past the hearsay and the anecdotes so I was intrigued when I came across a Reader’s Digest (Canada) article titled “How Polite Are We?”. Reader’s Digest tested people’s politeness by sending undercover reporters, 50% men, 50% women into 36 cities for the following three tests:

“• We walked into public buildings 20 times behind people to see if they would hold the door open for us.

• We bought small items from 20 stores and recorded whether the sales assistants said thank you.

• We dropped a folder full of papers in 20 busy locations to see if anyone would help pick them up.”

A full scientific test was not attempted by the study but it was the largest of its kind ever attempted. Every positive outcome was awarded a point and negative outcomes got no points.  A city could score a maximum of 60 points.  Here were the five lowest scoring cities:

[TABLE=2]

Reporters had stories to illustrate rudeness in the low-scoring cities.  In Mumbai:  “When our female reporter bought a pair of plastic hair clips at a convenience store, sales assistant Shivlal Kumavat turned his back on her as soon as she had paid. Asked why, the 31-year-old was unapologetic. ‘Madam, I am not an educated guy. I hand goods over to the customers, and that’s it.’ ”

“When an affluent-looking lady in her 40s failed to hold a door in Moscow’s Prospekt Vernadskogo, she chided us: ‘I’m not a doorman. It’s not my job to hold doors. If someone gets hurt, they should be quicker on their feet.’ ”

There were, of course, other stories, but even more interesting were the top scorers:

[TABLE=3]

Looking suspect yet?  I would suggest that the rationale behind this survey is the same that leads to tourists thinking that a city is rude and obnoxious:  a foreign set of cultural expectations are applied to the local scene to determine politeness.  Case in point: the door-holding test is unreliable as there are parts of the world, particularly parts of Asia, where holding the door for others is not necessarily considered a sign of politeness.  It is no surprise then, that Western cities like New York and Toronto scored highly and cities like Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur fared far worse.

Want to have positive experience in a new city?  Do your homework and know what to expect. Just because your own cultural niceties are not commonplace doesn’t mean that people are intentionally being rude to you.  So take courage, hop on the subway and throw some elbows.

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Bjorn Karlman