Thursday, June 24, 2010

There Was a Hosing at the Market Today...and it Wasn't to Clean the Vegetables

Today I paid 50,000 VND (roughly the equivalent of $2.75 CDN) for one mango, one dragonfruit and four sapodillas. That might not seem like a travesty to those in Canada, because these fruits are a thousand times fresher than they would be if sold in Canada and because $2.75 gets you maybe half of a dragonfruit in Canada. But deplorable it was. Why? Because I could have paid much, much less. I did not pay much, much less because I am a wiener. A true Austrian wiener, aged for twenty years.

Let me explain. I was quoted 30,000 VND for the mango and the dragonfruit, a quotation to which I responded that only 25,000 VND would be forthcoming. The lady/ladies (they all seemed to blend into one entity of older-lady devilishness) said (in Vietnamese, and it is to my credit that I understood) that the fruits came from the North of Viet Nam. If I'm getting really, really fresh fruit, I should be willing to pay a premium for it. But I paid 15,000 VND for two disastrous pears that probably were not even grown in Viet Nam (being grown outside of Viet Nam, the transportation costs to the seller would be higher than for fruits grown within Viet Nam). So to pay double that for domestically-grown fruits is terrible. And my Westernness and my docility are to blame. But I did not walk away. I agreed to pay the first price that they quoted me: 30,000 VND.

Here is how my Western logic led me to pay far too much for those fruits: I had chosen the fruits, so the lady/ladies put them on the scale for me. To balk at the price and walk away would a) be very rude by itself and b) be a waste of the time and effort they put into measuring the weight for me. In Canada I (and probably many others) have been brought up to respect the time of others. Wasting time is a bad thing, according to the logic of respecting others' time. In addition, I am not a confrontational person. It is hard for me to just walk away from somebody entreating me to do something. I might continually refuse to fulfill the request, and I might do it more forcefully each time they ask, but I will almost never walk away from somebody. It is extremely hard for me to do that. Because I cannot walk away, I am paying too much for fruit.

This haggling thing will take some time to get used to. I can't bear to make someone appear mad, and walking away makes the fruit vendors put on sad faces and start yelling. It's all a show. But in the moment, it is hard for me to forget that their lives would be nearly just as well (or unwell) whether I walk away or not.

The nice, docile Josh is gone. If you want me to pay you double what everyone else is paying for your lychees, then you can go to hell. And because I'm going to be such a bastard from now on, I'll see you there.


  1. lol, last line. sweet blog josh, i look forward to following it.

  2. Ah! Jenika! I think it's marvelous that you're following my blog. My blog must not be half-bad if you're reading it.

    And haggling is still rocket science to me.

  3. To anyone reading this post: with over seven months of experience now behind me, I realise that 50,000 VND for one mango, one dragonfruit and four sapodillas is not that bad a price, even by local standards. I definitely could have paid less than I did on the occasion I described in this post, but it is not an appalling rip-off. Here's an appalling rip-off for you: I was quoted 50,000 VND for a taxi ride of no more than two kilometres, when the fare up to one kilometre is around 9,000 VND and the per-kilometre fare below 21 km is no more than 11,500 VND for any taxi company. I (and my parents, who came to Hanoi! Wahoo!) walked, not before letting the driver know that his price was nothing but a steaming pile of vớ vẩn.