Why is it so hard to not steal from people?
I know that I’m an easy mark when I travel. I’m not walking around flashing tons of cash or jewelry or anything like that, but I’m clean, dressed cleanly and usually carrying an SLR camera. Oh, and I’m a reasonably tall, healthy looking white guy. I stand out in a crowd, particularly in Asia. And Africa. And decent chunks of the rest of the world, too.
I’ve had a few "real" run-ins, a few simple scams and a few just plain idiots come after me at one point or another. The bigger scams, long cons or other bits are actually at least entertaining to me. Someone has to put some effort into those. But a guy just trying to take your cash with no good story to back it up is pretty pathetic. I usually come out OK, and even when I haven’t my losses were minimal; at the least I got a decent story for the few dollars.
I tweeted my frustrations this morning, the second time in the few days we’ve been here in Sri Lanka that someone tried to short-change us:
Another asshole tried to short-change me in Sri Lanka. It gets old very quickly. But apparently not to them.
I got one interesting reply:
@WanderngAramean Easy…they are poor, you are not.
She’s right, of course. Relative to the people here my daily spending is a week or more of income based on the average numbers. And that’s only the average income numbers; I’m not dealing with the most wealthy citizens or anything close to that here, so there’s a decent chance their incomes are lower than that. There is no doubt that, in nearly every sense of the word, we are rich.
Still, it pisses me off something special every time this sort of thing happens. I get that I have more money. I’m choosing to come here and spend that money. I’m even trying as much as possible to do it in smaller shops, hotels and restaurants rather than in the big chains and such. No, I don’t often hire the touts/"guides" outside the sites nor do I buy the tchotchkes, but mostly because I know they are just plain awful. I’m willing to pay a fair price for a fair product. Try to screw me, however, and you get nothing.
In India it was all about negotiating for the tuk tuks. There’s the metered price, which no one pays. Then there’s the local price, which I know I’m not going to be paying, then there’s the actual tourist price, which is in the ballpark of what I should be paying, and then there’s the actual price they offered up for the fare when you ask how much. I sortof get that part of the negotiating process, even though I’m no good at it. I understand that as a tourist I’m going to pay ~30-50% more than the locals for a fare. We’re generally talking about $0.30-$1.00 here, and that’s something I can accept. After all, we’re both openly negotiating in good faith and agreeing upon a price. And at the end of the ride I’ll pay that price and expect correct change. In this regard I was never disappointed.
But when the guy we took an elephant ride with here in Sri Lanka quoted me Rs. 6600 (~USD$60) and then tried to short me Rs. 1000 change, then tried to "fix" it to only shorting me Rs. 800, I was pretty annoyed. When the cashier at one of the official tourist sites (i.e. run by the feds) similarly tried to stiff me Rs. 1000 change it got old. And when the guy at the spice garden marked the prices up 250% and then tried to seem sincere in the "20% discount," all while telling our driver that they were offering us a price half of what we walked out on, I got downright pissed.
In many of these countries tourism is the best chance they have to actually develop an economy that will support their population and not destroy the country. Sure, there are no guarantees that it will work, but certainly trying to shortcut the process, stealing from the visitors along the way, is a fast-track to killing any chance you’ve got.
At least I see it that way. Am I the only one? Am I being too hard on these people? These people who, I might add, appear to be leading a reasonably successful middle-class life, with a decent income level compared to the cost of living. Why should I have sympathy for them trying to rob me, especially after we’ve agreed that I’m already willing to pay their inflated prices, so long as we agree in advance?
Which brings me back to the opening thought from this post: How hard is it to not steal from people??
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