I thought I’d post a little note on haggling, as it seems to be a question that comes up frequently when you mention you’ve travelled to Asia.
“Oh! I bet everything is dirt cheap over there isn’t it?! Did you get ripped off though? I bet you got ripped off. Everyone tries to rip you off there”.
The answer is yes, and yes.
Vietnam is a country that is still recovering from a devastating war. It is also a communist country which (and whether you agree with it or not is a different question) limits growth of individual businesses above others. Taxes are high (like, really high!) and wages are, for the most part, low. On one of our car journeys we were speaking to our driver who told us that his mother-in-law wakes up at 4am every day to go to the market and buy fresh fruit and vegetables, which she then brings to her own shop in the town to resell. This is apparently quite commonplace, and I’m sure you’ll agree that there is unlikely to be a large profit margin in this. A huge proportion of the population work in farming; back breaking work in scorching heat- how much would you say they deserve to earn for this? They don’t.
So yes, when they see a tourist come to their town they probably see dollar signs (I imagine like an old fashioned cartoon with them rolling in their eye sockets!), but why shouldn’t they? We are lucky enough to be able to afford to travel thousands of miles across the world, just because we want to. We are, as westerners, incredibly fortunate – but isn’t it only fair that they offer us the same price as the locals?
Well, no, I’m not sure it is, though I say this probably because I’m terrible at haggling (despite working in Sales…). When I’m browsing through a market stall of trinkets- because I love trinkets!- and a tiny woman comes to me with a friendly smile, gently places her hand on my arm and asks me if I like it, and then tells me this hand painted bowl is just $2? Well, $2 seems like a great price anyway, so I buy it. Just like that. Bargain.
I did get bamboozled a few times during my three week trip: most notably when a canny greeting card saleswoman in the street managed to woo me into spending around £12 on 10 of her handmade cards. That’s probably more than I would pay in Britain- it was certainly more than any local Vietnamese person would pay- but, you know what? I was irritated by it at first, but the more I thought about it the more I thought about her family waiting for her at home (or more likely all returning from a similar day’s work); the mouths she may have to feed, the rent she had to pay. £12 is a relatively small amount of money for someone like me, with no responsibilities at home and the disposable income that that affords, but to her it probably made a huge difference.
I know a lot of the bargaining process is theatrics designed to promote an emotive response, but I really don’t want to rebuke the price I’m given only to be faced with doe eyes and “But Madame, it’s not expensive!”. I tried that once, and buckled almost immediately, and bought two nearly identical pairs of trousers I didn’t even really need but now, ultimately, love.
Surely the best way to help give developing countries a step up is to stop taking advantage of them? Whilst its great to get a bargain, haggling down to the point where the seller is unlikely to make a profit at all is, I’d suggest, part of the reason they feel the need to hike the prices up in the first place.
What do you think? Do you love to haggle?