As a foreigner living in Nepal, if you are not equipped in the art of hard bargaining, you are doomed.
Vendor: "That is 2,500 rupees."
Me: "What?" (Walking away)
Vendor: "How much do you want? Just look at how nicely it is crafted. Genuine antique."
Me: "500 rupees."
Vendor: "Oh-ho. I told you 2,500 rupees and you say 500 rupees, are you kidding me? Ok I give you Nepali price now, not tourist price. 1,500, exclusive."
Me: (Walking away, waving)
Vendor: (Running to catch up) "Don't go away! How about 1,200? 1,000? Tell me how much you want to pay."
Me: (No comment, pretend to look at another shop)
Vendor: "Wait, wait. 800? Ö700? Ok ok 500 hundred it's yours. You are very lucky today."
HmmÖ am I really lucky? After living in Nepal for a few weeks, I thought I had learnt the tricks of the trade in bargaining, yet I still ended up paying more than I should have. No matter what, it seems, foreigners will always pay more.
"To take a taxi there, it would be around 200 rupees for us," Nepali friends would tell me, "but for you they won't go for anything less than 300."
The guava from a street vendor should be cheaper, but I know I am paying the "foreigner tax" even when he has come down by half. And worse, a Nepali friend buying bananas on my behalf has to pay more because the fruit seller knows it is for me.
The dual pricing is state-sanctioned because there are different prices everywhere you go. To a certain extent this happens in most Asian countries, but nowhere is it as institutionalised as in Nepal. To enter the Patan Museum, there is a different price for Nepalis, another one for SAARC countries and another one ten times more for "other foreigners".
A recent news item that showed Chinese tourists in Nepal spend on an average two times more than other tourists made me wonder. Chinese are the world superpower in bargaining. Maybe we are just less effective in bargaining overseas because of language issues? Very early on in my stay I decided there is no point trying to fight this price apartheid, and accept it as a part of Nepali culture, and an honourable contribution to uplifting Nepal's economy.
It is surprising how quickly one gets used to Kathmandu's infamous traffic. At first it looks like a chaotic blend of trucks, buses, motorcycles, scooters, bulls, dogs, goats, push carts and even two-wheel tractors that are used for rice planting back in China, but in Kathmandu are attached to trailers loaded high with cement bags. There are few zebra crossings, and even on the ones that exist, vehicles have the right of way. The road centre line is just a suggestion, everyone ignores them. The roads are heavily cratered, and these are euphemistically called "pot holes".
But within my first week of arrival I was negotiating all this as if I was born here. Real traffic rules are broken all the time, but the unspoken rules of the road are steadfastly followed and they seem to work perfectly. Every vehicle pokes into every available space creating a complete gridlock, but somehow inch-by-inch this hopeless monstrous mess inevitably untangles itself.
And the amazing thing is that everyone manages to keep their cool. Despite the anarchy on the streets, this is probably the country in Asia with the least road rage. No one is shouting obscenities and making rude gestures even though they have every reason to. There is a live-and-let-live quality to Kathmandu's street ecosystem, and as the time comes for me to leave for the reverse cultural shock of adjusting again to spotless clean streets where cars glide along on their lanes, it suddenly hits me that I am truly going to miss Nepal's lawlessness.