Thursday, October 18, 2007

You are the worst customer

I was contemplating buying a shirt with a Vietnam flag on it from a young girl, perhaps 10 years old, working a street stand in downtown Hanoi. I looked at different shirt types for about two minutes (there were no other customers around). She quoted me a very high price, over twice what the shirt was worth. I thought about buying the Vietnam flag shirt but decided not to because Helen, whose fashion taste far exceeds my own, said that my color was not red. When I told the girl this she was very upset and said, "You are the worst customer!" Yes, the Vietnamese are still having some trouble adjusting from Socialism to Capitalism.

In Vietnam you negotiate everything. Especially if you are a tourist because the starting price is two to four times higher. You see, the Vietnamese (and to a lesser extent, the Chinese), believe they are all in this together -- to get money from you, the tourist. This means that if you are sitting in a restaurant, you will usually be bothered by people selling things. The restaurant owner does nothing to stop this because, you see, they are in this together, as fellow countrymen, to get the tourists' money. I am writing this from Saigon and I have been offered the opportunity to buy weed, women, chiclets, sunglasses, cigarettes, lighters, books, et. al. more times than I can remember. I was having breakfast at a restaurant here and counted 10 people in one hour who approached me, or at least made eye contact expecting a nod, and wanted to sell me sunglasses. They all sell the same stuff.

Just like when we got scammed on the Chinese bus by the guy who demanded an overage charge for our luggage, many of the people near us probably knew it was a scam but did not care since I am a foreigner. Being from a country that is so open to foreigners and generally quite fair to them, this has been a big adjustment for me.

Anyway, later the same afternoon as the "you are the worst customer incident", Helen was shopping for gifts and quoted a price of about $6 on a sweater. We counteroffered for about $4.75. The lady got so upset that she yelled at us and kicked us out of the store. We have no idea exactly why, but obviously that lady needs to learn to treat her customers more kindly if she wants to stay in business. We walked to a different store and did the same thing for virtually the same article of clothing, and they were happy to let us make the purchase.

I just walked out of a restaurant here in Saigon where my meal was finished to the tunes of the mother (restaurant owner) and teenage daughter in a loud 20 minute verbal fight -- one at the front of the restaurant and one in the back. Oh well, you have to take the good with the bad . . . . I have had an absolutely fantastic time here in Vietnam, but I promised to dutifully report everything.

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