I was out with a friend today shopping for camera equipment for my upcoming trip to Mongolia. I went to a local little camera ‘stall’ near/in The Tax Department Store (I won’t even get into what a terrible name that is for a store…that could be a whole post on it’s own). I was looking for a cheap shutter release for my camera as I intend to take landscape shots on a tripod. The store clerk said yes they had some, but they weren’t Canon. I said no problem as I’m looking for something cheap that will work.
Actually remember, I’m in Vietnam, so the conversation was more like….
Me: “You have no camera shutter button for canon camera?” accompanied by charade type gesturing of a off camera shutter button.
Him: “Have. No Canon”
Me: “I see?”
A woman went over and got a small box out of a case and brought it over towards my friend and me. As she was doing so my friend happened to notice that as the female clerk was bringing over the small box, she was taking off the price sticker and throwing it away. He said to me, “She’s taking off the price, but I saw that it was 300,000.” I was impressed by his ‘spy-like’ ways. I expected him to then say “I’m Bond, James Bond…”
We inspected the off-brand shutter release and tested it on my friend’s camera…all good. Now, on to the fun part – negotiating. Everything is a negotiation in Asia. I asked the man “How much?”
He thought about it for a bit and then said $30USD. For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the Dong to Dollar exchange rates, $30Us is about 525,000Dong. Of course this pissed me off. My friend quickly said, We saw her take off the price tag, it was 300,000 Dong. Ahhh – Score: us 1, mean camera store man 0. He looked at us, smiled, gave a bit of a chuckle and said, “Ok – 300,000”. Sold.
Does that make your skin crawl? Five months ago I would have walked away and tried to make a point as I would have been so pissed that he was trying to take advantage of us. However, after living here for 9 months, I guess I’m used to it. My blood doesn’t boil any longer when things like this happen…but it does still get warm.
By Ba July 2, 2009 - 2:53 pm
Did she agree to sell it for 300k Dong with no hesitation? If that was the case, the sticker price was also the ripped off price. Venders in Saigon are getting tricky, they put price tag on the merchandise to make the buyers think that the price shown is the right price. Don’t hesitate to negotiate.
By Dave and Deb July 2, 2009 - 5:44 pm
Wow, Mongolia, that is on our itinerary next year. I can’t wait to read what you have to say. Good job on the negotiations. I don’t know if Ba is right that it was still a ripped off price, but at least you got it for less that 30 bucks:)
By Lynn July 2, 2009 - 7:00 pm
Sherry you realize you probably still didn’t pay the price you would have gotten if you were Vietnamese, right? In Hong Kong there were three prices – tourist price, local price and Chinese price. There was no way I could get the Chinese price, ever! It never bothered me though; it was just part of living there. I would jump right in and argue if they tried to charge me the tourist price, but after awhile I knew what the local price should be and could usually get it.
Different culture…and I always tried to see it from their point of view. To them we have so much and they have so little so it only seems fair to them to try to get as much as they can from us. I know its different for you because you aren’t living the typical expat life so a lot of times you really could use that “Chinese” price. Oh well…try not to let it get to you…its just how things are done.
By Nomadic Matt July 2, 2009 - 7:12 pm
they are not nearly as bad in other parts of asia….you don’t get that blatant in Thailand….this is one of the reasons why I hated vietnam so much!!
By admin July 2, 2009 - 10:03 pm
@Ba – there was a bit of hesitation, but I think that was becuase we said we saw her pull the sticker off. Yeah – I agree – you do have to negotiate everything here. It just really amazes me sometimes at how blatent the ripping off is!
By admin July 2, 2009 - 10:06 pm
@Lynn – you are right – I still was overcharged I’m sure. But I”m used to that here…but when they try to take it up another level it just irks me. Yes, I do agree, we have much more than them. However I’m not a corporate expat…I make very little in Western terms (hell, I’d be way below the poverty level in the States on my annual income here), so it just makes me mad that they think everyone white skin has money to throw around…not so.
By Lornadahl July 3, 2009 - 9:40 am
I’m so sorry to hear about that incident. As an Asian myself, I admit we’re guilty of assuming Westerners have lots of cash to burn. I dunno where it came from. Perhaps, we’re too insecure and we consider anything and anyone from the West as our complete opposites.
In my case, I realized it’s not always the case upon meeting foreigners on my travels and interacting with US-based clients over the phone for the last 6 years. I hope such treatment would change.
By Anil July 3, 2009 - 10:44 am
This happens in many parts of the world but varies in how bad it is. I just accept it as part of the process and try not to let it bother me. Getting pissed off about it lasts way longer than it’s worth. (But hard not to sometimes!)
By admin July 4, 2009 - 1:31 am
I am getting better at accepting it. I certainly don’t get as upset as I used to. It’s just one of those things that I find really divides us culturally! On the plus side – my negotiation skills have improved quite a bit over the past 9 months of living here!
By Lilliy July 5, 2009 - 8:03 am
That happens in so many places not juts in SE Asia. I went to places that don’t have tags or prices just so they can tell any price they want.
I went once to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and I was just browsing had no intentions of buying and there the shop owners are always inviting you in to just see, then they try to push you to buy once you just looked or touched something. So just for the sake of his pushing you ask the price a very common question there is “where are you from?” now mind you I was born in the US my roots are Uzbek and part of my life I was raised in Saudi Arabia.. many times people don’t know where to place me. So I start with US then say well I have a Saudi parent.. then say my family originally from Uzbek.. it was very interesting to see how the price tag changes.. from the original price it went down to by %60 and I am not kidding.
I just now see the humor in it and say no thank you and walk away or just say I will think about it.
By Ba July 6, 2009 - 8:25 am
Sherry – According to the Vietnamese locals (vendors), the westerners/caucasians are broken down into three different types/categories: Tourists (lots of money to spend), backpackers (little or no money to spend), and the locals (live and work in VN with decent amount of money). If you make 4-5 times more than the average salary in Saigon ($100-$200USD/month), you’re considered “RICH”. Depends on how you dress, you will be placed into one of these types. Similar concept also apply to overseas Vietnamese (Việt Kiều) but these Việt Kiều are judged by the way they speak. For some reason, these vendors are so smart, they’re able to tell even though we speak the same language.
By Erica July 6, 2009 - 11:31 pm
Is this not part of the travelling experience??? You are only annoyed because you know better, they probably get away with it every day. If it annoys you soo much maybe it’s time to come home 🙁 Good for them for trying i think, bet it makes their day when they get away with it.
By admin July 7, 2009 - 8:55 am
It’s absolutely part of the travel experience. But I’m not traveling, I live here – so no going home for me! When you live here you have to deal with this every day; and that can be frustrating at times. I’ve actually gotten quite used to it – however it’s normally not this blatent. I think it just points out what a huge differenc cultural difference there is between our countries.
By DTran July 7, 2009 - 9:47 am
It’s not just Westerners. Being a Vietnamese oversea visiting VN, I’ve also had the same problem. The merchants usually recognize that I’m “Viet Kieu”, and they quote me differently. Electronic devices are more expensive in VN than in US for brand name merchandises.
By Mary Richardson July 8, 2009 - 9:15 pm
It’s just a fact when you travel in foreign countries. No matter how hard you try, you sometimes just can’t pay a local price…
but you know what? it happens in the States with immigrants living there. I heard many stories from ESL students who say they got ripped off because of their lack of English language ability… everything from car repairs to cable tv installation!
By Nora July 9, 2009 - 2:52 pm
I feel your pain! But it is all in the name of “business”, and like you say – we can’t blame them for trying to make a buck. We can just be amused, and thankful that they’re not trying to rip us off for more!
When shopping overseas, I tend to decide for myself what I’m prepared to pay, and even if it’s still a rip-off, at least it is a price I was happy to pay. If I’m happy to pay it, and the vendor is happy to take it (duh!), then we all win, I guess.
(Having said that, I try to drive a pretty hard bargain – without being silly or too stingy…because it’s fun)!
By Rebekah July 16, 2009 - 8:51 pm
EEEEKKK! Sherry! I always go to the same lady in the wet market now, she knows I live in HK, so I don’t get charged tourist prices anymore (though I doubt I’m getting Chinese prices).
I had an awful cab ride two days ago. The cabbie was rude, the cab stunk, his driving in heavy traffic was terrible…I normally round up unless the experience is bad and tip if it’s very good. It was $27, but he wouldn’t let me get out where I wanted (where I always get out…), so it clicked over to $28.50- this meant that not only was there no tip, my rounding up rule was out the window too. To top it off he cracked it at me when I gave him a $100 note (not considered a large currency here). He then gave me my change in coins, lots of them, including lots and lots of 10 and 20 cent pieces (about 1 and 3 US cents). I jumped out before I counted it, to find he’d given himself a tip by short changing me. Boy was I FURIOUS!
It took me about 15 minutes to calm down by telling myself it was about $US1 and he needed it more than me…but IT’S THE PRINCIPLE!!! I hate this stuff and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it- it’s not about money, it’s about being honest!
By tu-anh July 24, 2009 - 4:25 am
hey, i just stumbled across your website as its in the top 10 list of something (myeggnoodles tweet). Anyways its a great website that i can deffo relate to as my family are from vietnam and living in the u.k.
Yh, vietanemse sellers will always try to rip you off as they know that ppl will always try and haggle down the price so my little trick is to pretend not to be that interested in the item as in walk away (soom they will stop u) and it can go as far as 1/4 of their starting price :D.
keep on the good work!
By Mark H April 1, 2011 - 5:20 pm
When you aren’t in the mood to negotiate, then this kind of behaviour is a pain in the neck. Saying that, I have seen people quibble and argue over an amount that is well under $1 in Asia – there has to be some balance both ways…