Nepali Times Asian Paints
Strange encounters


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.

1. Ram
A chinese perspective to Nepal. But for haggling the prices, no one catch up to chinese . I used to live in china before.  I know that  chinese are more smarter in  bargaining the price than anyone else. Its indian culures actully in Nepal. In the early days, there used to be a lot of indian vendors in the street of ktm. They used to practice that .Later on all the other vendors follow their suit. It's not only for foreigners, Nepali themselves cheated by them. I have been cheated so many times in the streets of kathmandu.If you go to cloth shop especially they practice like you mention  that how the price come down from 2500 rupeess to 500 rupess.You should have visited  outside the kathmandu to look the true Nepal. Your perspective doesnot hold much point . Nepali are generous and honest . Kathmandu is a mess .It is unmanageable coz of  influx of human herds. 

2. Buzz
What an irony? A Chinese complaining about bargaining. What next? A lecture of corporate governance by Rajat Gupta and Bernie Madoff. 

3. chandra gurung
It is amusing story. But Cai , I had to pay more than twice for my flight from Beijing to Chengdu when I was in China in late 1990s. Chengdu's defining character those days was people spitting in the street, and squeezing their cough using their shoes/slippers. Most of the nice roads are relatively new stories in China, aren't they? But I agree that things are really horrible in Nepal now, and I hope Nepal hires Chinese road constructors soon to make nice roads. I really love the new roads, new bridges in coastal China.

4. ashok
more prices for the foreigners occured almost everywhere in the world. do u know that shopping in china is horrible if ur not satisfy with their products they make so horrible faces that he gonna kill u on the spot... 

5. SH
Few years back during my short visit to Shenzhen, I had a wonderful time getting a massage, pedicure, manicure and other heavenly moments that spa can offer. It was cheap compared to the price I had been paying and the service was excellent!! I had also heard about cheap deals you could get in the station mall but only by bargaining like you've been born to bargain otherwise you could be swallowed whole by the sellers or so I had been told. And yes I managed to buy a fake Gucci purse (a gift for my avid fake Gucci products fanatic friend)  for 20 yuan, a final price decreased all the way from original said price of 200 yuan!! So..

And by the way, I like how the Chinese vendors can whip out the calculator faster than you can say " expensive. Give me cheaper price." And how their nimble fingers tap the buttons so expertly to show you the final figure!

6. K Hill
Chinese vendor markets perhaps atop the bargaining rank in the world. Last month my experience with the San Li Tung Market in Beijing before I was heading back to my home was memorable. I never had experience that the bargaining would fix the price 90% for an item down from the original price. Thanks to my Chinese friend for an advise in advance.

7. Nirmal
CAI YUN behaves as a western tourist, the same as the chinese regime. Money is not glory so long it doesnot contribute to gain human dignity. Chinese kuirini didi namaste!

8. Nanana
Cai Yun, You learnt trade bargaining in weird!! That's like Chinese learning to speak Chinese outside China... I stayed in China for like 4 yrs and the conversation you wrote is exactly the kind of conversation  had for like thousand times.Just that people never said I am lucky... they would frown and start murmuring.....I always took that as they were scolding me ... Anyways you are much luckier if it had been some western tourist they would have charged him/her with double the price you were offered..

9. Vayen
During my first visit to Shanghai,I payed 390 RMB for a boxer from a street vendor  thinking that Shanghai is most expensive city of China.Now, that's the FOREIGNER TAX I payed....

10. yuuuar
Chiniya haruko natakai besi.. Unihrau ko desh ma ani bahira jata gaye pani kei vau paudaina..sabaile hepcha baru. ani Nepal jasto garib desh ayepachi ali ali vau pauna thalchan ani badi foreigner attitude dekhauna pauchann... chiniya haruko Nepal ma natak dekhera hash uthcha malai!!  

11. GyaRel
Chinese Embassy charges visa based on your nationality. That was funny part to me.Then the exchange rate was also different depending on the country of your origin. In the airport in Beijing, the Immigration to people outside waiting for tourists have different rates for foreigners. Hotels have different rates for different nationalities. Taxis charged me huge chunk of money even after I was "successful" (note the quotes) in bargaining the guy.

In my one week of stay in Beijing, I saw and heard from friends of mine about the unaccountable number of road accidents. The police is never called, the drivers have fist fight, then settle for a pay.

Conclusion, I did not feel anything wrong with Nepalis having two rates for Nepali and Foreigners. In Thailand, too, there are two rates. Well, in rich countries like US, Japan ... the domestic rate is itself so high, that international visitors complain that domestic rate is high, so they need to have one rate.

Anyway, it is as always like this in any developing countries. Don't get surprised. It is the real world. Foreigner = money in any country. You go to Tinanman square, you will find the similarities.

Great article.

12. Tuauaal
At least you would be informed at first that you will be charged Rs.300.In my case I gave him 100 RMB and he was supposed to return 70 RMB.Instead he only returned 50 RMB, when asked about rest of the money he started telling me like we are foreigner and we have more money ,20 RMB doesn't really matter!!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)