Foreign Tax

Week One. Mumbai, India

Before stepping foot into Mumbai, coined the City of Dreams by the locals, I was aware of the city’s vibrant street markets and lively people culture. I had seen YouTube videos of foreigners shopping on the street markets, getting things we could only dream about in New Zealand for bargain prices.

(Left: Gateway of India at sunset) (Right: Me on Marine Parade at sunset, with Mumbai’s city skyline in background)

Despite the genuine hospitality and friendliness of the locals here, there is some rivalry there when it comes to selling to foreigners. Of course, you know where I am heading with this. Foreigners are getting overcharged for items, not knowing how to haggle. I was able to witness this firsthand, well, actually experience it too.

On my second night in Mumbai, I saw the same scarf sold to a local for 100 rupees and sold to an American tourist for 1000 rupees shortly after. What is even crazier is the accomplished look on the tourist’s face as she walked away, thinking she got the bargain of her life. Then again, that is only about $20 NZD, but being a university student, still a lot for me!

I asked the vendor why this was that he charged this tourist lady so much more, and he laughed and muttered back to me, “foreign tax”.

But yes, compared to how much I got “taxed”, that American lady did get a bargain in comparison.

On Wednesday this week, we travelled to Bandra, a district well known for its night life, taking the local trains and rickshaws like the locals. This experience makes the roller coaster in Rainbow’s end seem like a children’s ride.

(Sunset again, this time in the back of a rickshaw that had a mind of its own, weaving in and out of traffic)

Long story short, we had the amazing opportunity to go shopping there that evening. Before dinner, most of us were browsing through the clothing stores, buying scarves and saris. I was getting quite bored and impatient and wandered into the ac cooled, tailor store next door to avoid the stuffy Bombay humidity.

Here the vendor greeted me and showed me a whole range of fabrics and textiles. I was not particularly keen on buying anything, so I pretended to be interested in his range so he wouldn’t kick us out of the store. However, a particular shade of blue fabric caught my eye, and I knew I had to get something made from it. I think it was also just one of those moments when you spend too long in a store that you feel obliged to buy something.

I was told the blue fabric I chose was premium tier and was cotton imported from Egypt. Also, it doesn’t crease or wrinkle. Like that, I was sold.

Now came the important part – negotiating the price. Having read Christopher Ross’ Never Split the Difference, I felt I was more than well equipped to handle the markets of India. I mean, surely learning about how to, at least in theory, negotiate an FBI hostage situation would be of some use.

He told me 6500 rupees firm ($120 NZD). To which I pulled out the poor uni student card, ‘I’m just a poor uni student.”

He chuckled and pulled out a calculator, punched in a few buttons and told me the price of this shirt in NZD! “This is cheap for you, sir.”

Being genuinely shocked, I asked what the best price he could offer me was, to which he seemed to cave and said 6000 rupees.

Now, inside, I was taking this as a little win, and I’d see if I could push it to a even better price.

I swiftly replied, “no, I’ll give you 5000”.

The look he gave me genuinely made me feel bad, as he looked so offended, took a pause and replied, “sir, let’s please be realistic with our prices”.

I felt an immediate wave of embarrassment, paid him 6000 in cash, and he gave me a receipt on a card and a promise that’d he would deliver my tailor-made shirt to me latest by tomorrow.

Free delivery?! Yes, another win, I thought.

I left the store feeling pretty stoked about getting myself a tailor-made shirt in India and impressed with my negotiation skills. My mates also seemed to believe that I got a pretty decent deal. It was only later that evening, during dinner, I was telling Naveen, our supervisor here, about my shirt, that I knew I had got scammed.

I won’t go into detail, still being a sensitive topic, but essentially she told me I could get the same shirt, if not better, for less than 600 rupees.

(Me having a sob after being told I was ripped off)

Later that night, when walking back to the hostel. While window shopping, a familiar shade of blue caught my eye. Here I found my shirt, almost exactly the same shade, texture, and everything. However, it wasn’t the same as it had a slight misprint. There was an obvious typo on the price tag where it only said 599 rupees.

Well, either that or the “foreign tax” of Egyptian cotton is just a bit expenny. I’m thinking might have been that Suez Canal incident.

(Watching the sunrise in my 6000 rupee shirt, in case you were wondering, it’s also super comfy if it helps my case?)

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