06 Nov

A Right Rip off?

Nobody likes to be ripped off. Apart from its financial aspect, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially when you are on holiday. It is the total antithesis of a warm welcome, a repudiation of the very nature of hospitality. Or is it, always?

I was recently reading a story in one of the national papers concerning a British woman and her son who were on holiday in Nepal. They posted a video of a Nepalese tea shop owner who was very annoyed with them after they had complained that she had over-charged them for a cup of tea, by the looks of it around the equivalent of £1 rather than 20-30p which it would have been in Kathmandu. The tea shop owner’s rather angry comments, were why were they complaining they were rich, they could afford it. Now we do not know exactly how the holidaymakers behaved to provoke such a strong reaction, which was quite possibly, an overreaction. However, it does highlight the sensitivities around unequal economic interaction between comparatively wealthy tourists and local people.

In developing countries, people will often earn shockingly small amounts of money, in many cases the equivalent of pennies, rather than pounds a day. Tourists provide an incredibly welcome source of income but they are, even when travelling on a budget, massively better off than most of the people they meet. Therefore, it is no surprise then that in many countries, there will be two prices, the local price and the tourist price, it is a simple matter of economics, we can afford it. However, the differentials will mean that you will still end up paying considerably less than you would back home for the same service.

So, should you be annoyed about this or simply see it as your contribution to the country you are travelling in and a way for you to make a very real difference to some very poor people’s lives? I think it is a question of degree, being charged a higher price is understandable, but if this is massively so or if you are short-changed, then we are straying into more dishonest areas, where you could be quite legitimately annoyed.

In certain destinations though, when you are buying goods such as clothes, carpets and souvenirs, haggling is expected and the initial price you are quoted is just that, an initial price. Being able to ‘haggle’ or better ‘negotiate’ for the right price is an art form. It involves making a quick decision about the cost of a service or product that is fair for both sides. Ideally, both parties walk away satisfied. In the souks of Marrakech and bazaars of Turkey, haggling can be a fun game. The customer sees a leather bag or scarf and the market stall owner will start with a high price expecting you to offer a lower price. In the end, with a bit of banter a customer can walk away with a good value, locally crafted souvenir and the stall owner gets paid a price they’re happy with. 

However, it can be very easy to lose perspective when you’ve been away for a while, I remember a friend of mine being enraged with a Tuk Tuk driver in Bangkok who tried to charge double the agreed fare, until I pointed out to my friend to let it go, we were talking about the equivalent of 40p!

Back to our Nepalese tea shop owner, she quite possibly had only had one or two customers that day and may have had to transport the fuel and water for her stove over a long distance, so just smile, hand over the money and leave everyone with a good taste in the mouth.