So far in our travels we have visited countries where A) the US dollar goes very very far and B) we stick out like a sore thumb. We may as well be walking dollar signs, and each country has developed its own way to extract those dollars. I’m not talking about big, organized scams like the one we fell prey to in India (although, of course, those do exist everywhere). What I’m talking about here is the everyday hustling that people do to make a buck – the reason why there are so many articles out there teaching you how to haggle. We don’t haggle well, but after haggling our way through several countries I’ve come to find that I prefer to be taken advantage of in some ways more than others.
In Indonesia everything was cheap and everyone was smiling. They all seemed to be working so diligently to make sure we were happy that we didn’t mind paying more than we probably could have. Anyways, the more-than-we-probably-could-have price was far less than what we would have paid at home. Everyone was happy. No haggling required.
Thailand was so used to seeing westerners that they seemed to know exactly what we wanted and what we would be willing to pay. Sure, we probably could have gotten that $10 massage down to $5, but what’s the point? We can afford to pay an extra five dollars, and we don’t like haggling. Thailand seemed to understand this and use it to their advantage.
In Cambodia everyone we encountered was always looking to make a deal. “I’ll take you to your hotel for free,” they’d tell us, “as long as you agree to let me be your driver when you go to Angkor Wat tomorrow.” It was all about getting future business and thereby inspiring us to pay more. It all seemed rather entrepreneurial. I didn’t mind that, but they also liked to use the tactic of making me feel guilty for having money. They would point out how little they have, and how little everything costs compared to the states. This tactic makes me want to scream because at the end of the trip I still need to be able to afford to live in the states. Pointing out how expensive things are in the United States only serves to remind me of that.
In China we really didn’t encounter much overpricing targeted at us. When we were in the touristy areas things were more expensive, but that happens no matter what country you’re in. Either way, we don’t speak a lick of Chinese so we couldn’t have haggled even if we’d felt the need to.
In India our perspective was skewed by the scam that we encountered right off the bat. Not including that encounter, the people we came into contact with in India relied heavily the guilt tactic. Unlike Cambodia, though, they didn’t seem to understand what I would consider to be a good price. “It’s only $60,” they would say. Sixty dollars is not an insignificant amount of money for me. True, it’s not an outrageous amount of money, but the number of things I purchase for $60 is few and far between. It’s not throw-away money, as they seemed to imply. When we did buy something, they still weren’t satisfied. They always wanted more – a tip, a second purchase, just something more. It was unnerving. I do think that our experience here may have been corrupted by the fact that we were tricked into purchasing a tour. As a result, every site, restaurant, and shop we went to was dictated by the tour guide or driver. Things might be different if you’re on your own.
Egypt was, personally, my favorite place to get ripped off. In Egypt they would start with an insanely high price. A trinket that should cost 10 Egyptian Pounds would first be quoted at 300 Egyptian Pounds. We ended up overpaying for everything, but we paid what we were comfortable paying and everything was done with a sense of humor. The Egyptians would joke with us. Shopkeepers would laughingly say, “How can I take your money today?” as we walked by. If they had time, they’d drink tea and chat for a while. And they seemed to know when to walk away. Just a few ‘no, thank yous’ and they’d give up. Jordan and Israel were similar, though without the extreme price difference. Apparently, this is how I like to be taken advantage of: with a smile, a silly conversation, and, preferably, some tea. In the end, though, I’m glad to be back in the world of no haggling – at least for the time being.
We’d love to hear your best and worst haggling experiences. What’s your favorite way to get ripped off?