I’ve been told time and time again whilst I’ve been travelling in Asia, both by friends and by Conor; ‘Emma, you’re the worst haggler I’ve ever known!’ But the truth is this: I’m neither afraid of haggling nor bad at it, I just don’t like it and honestly, I disagree with a lot of the haggling done by western tourists in this part of the world.
As so many of you know, I am a pro budgeter and I’d like to think a bit of a money saving expert (that’s right Martin Lewis, I’m after your job!) I always book the best flight deals – Dublin to New York for £100 anyone? I know every credit card offer going and how to utilize them for my own benefit and I pretty much always have some kind of discount code for whatever I’m doing. Add to this my ability to stick to a budget when I’m saving up and I’d say I’m pretty savvy when it comes to money. So why is it that I hate haggling so much?
Many travellers state that traders in Asia add on ‘tourist tax’ and this is true for some of them. I recently enquired how much a pair of sunglasses were in a busy tourist area and was quoted 300,000VND, the equivalent of £10. I know that this guy was definitely trying to make the most of my western appearance and the fat wallet that he perceives that I have. I lose sunglasses so much that I wouldn’t even spend £10 on a pair in the UK. Add to this that I paid only $6 for my last pair in New Orleans and I definitely wasn’t going to give him 300,000VND. He asked how much I would pay for them and I thought about how much I liked them and how much I would pay for them in England. We settled on 150,000VND. I was happy (they’re possibly my favourite sunglasses I’ve ever had and I was no longer squinting) and he was very happy as I’m sure this was a good profit for him.
So I’m not against haggling per se but the haggling I am against is this… When somebody, usually a great saleswoman working long hours in a shop or a lovely lady carrying around a heavy sunglasses stand in the heat quotes a fair price to begin with and people still try to haggle.
120,000VND for a dress. That is four Great British Pounds and the dress is beautiful. If you saw it in Primark you’d grab one in every pattern and quickly text your bff to see if she wanted one too. So why, just because you’re in Asia, have you decided that you don’t want to pay this?
Similarly, when quoted 80,000VND for a pair of sunglasses (or £2.66) why are we trying to haggle? This is a dream come true! Your sunglasses have broken and the sun is shining in your eyes. Miraculously, a lady appears in front of you on the beach (no she’s not a mirage) and asks if you would like to buy a pair for 80,000VND! Bloody brilliant! But instead, a haggle ensues and the lady agrees, a little sadly, to take 70,000VND. That’s a grand saving in the western pocket of 33p.
I’m all for ‘every little helps’ but I only need to spend around 2 mins in my job in the UK to earn 33p. I imagine it takes this little lady far longer. I keep hearing the phrase ‘Yes, but you have to think of the saving relative to the country that you’re in.’ I completely understand that a small amount goes a lot of further here than in the Western world but if we’re looking at this amount relative to our western bank accounts then 33p is a small percentage of my total and to me and my conscience, that’s what’s important.
I worry that some of this sounds condescending towards the people of SE Asia and I really don’t want it to come across that way. These people do not need to be pitied… they are richer than us in currencies far superior to money. They are kind, live in the most beautiful country and have a sense of community and friendship far stronger than in the west. But they still need money to pay the bills and they still deserve to earn a fair wage.
So I ask that next time you’re trying knock off that few thousand dong or a couple of baht, think about what it’s actually worth to you and then to the person who’s selling the item. It might buy you or me half of a beer in a backpackers bar but personally I’d rather it went towards the sellers food shopping for the week.
What’re your thoughts on haggling in Asia? This is a bit of a contraversial topic and all opinions are my own so I’d love to hear some contrasting or similar ones!