you part with your money- part 1
The art of scamming
Scams in India, as in many countries that are travellers favourites,
are many and various. Some seem to be regional or local specialities
while some seem universal throughout the country. The people who
scam for a living full time are usually very good at what they do
and are invariably adept at spotting travellers who appear to be
"fresh off the boat". Once you've been here a while and
acquired that kind of grimy semi burned patina that seems to be
a hallmark of travellers to the subcontinent, you will probably
find that attempts to scam you drop off, or at least the perseverance
becomes less intense. You also develop a nose for when someone is
trying to put one over on you; if you think someone’s trying
to shaft you, they probably are.
Its worth remembering that not only foreign tourists are targeted
for scams; Indians suffer just as badly, especially in large cities
or well known tourist areas. Some scams are specifically foreigner
targeted and many only aimed at Indians, but by and large we're
all in the same boat.
Foreigner tax - overcharging
At the simplest level, scamming simply consists of overcharging
you for goods or services. This is definitely one that travellers
and Indians share. It covers all areas of commercial activity, from
buying matches, taking a rickshaw ride and getting a room for the
You know that the price of a rickshaw from A-B is X amount, because
it says so in the guidebook, but the guy asks for at least double,
usually more. You know that the cigarettes you buy should be 12
rupees, but the guy wants 14. Sometimes the hotel room is advertised
on the board at 150 rs, but the guy will not budge below 200. All
of these are a part of Indian life; articles and letters to the
National English language papers in Delhi often complain about rickshaw
fares which are supposed to be fixed by meter, but never are. A
recent rickshaw drivers strike over meters and fares in Delhi attracted
zero public sympathy because of the daily abuses peoples wallets
suffer at the hands of the drivers. Foreigners are obviously especially
likely to be overcharged as they have less idea of what the real
price is, although this applies equally to Indians coming to the
"big city" from rural areas; the drivers can spot naiive
country types at 300 metres in the dark.
The other version of overcharging is where it IS based entirely
on the fact you are foreign, and therefore rich so its only REASONABLE
that you pay more. In these cases you can often see an Indian handover
a 10 rupee note for an orange juice, but when yours comes its 20.
Even if you ask in advance, the guy will often not back down, he
just sees it as almost a law of nature that you should pay more
than an Indian.
Don't get wound up
How you approach being overcharged really depends as much as anything
on your personality. Some people have the attitude that they are
better off and are happy to pay more, while other take the view
they should be charged the same and spend hours arguing over 2 rupee
discrepancies every time they get their wallets out. Like most,
I am somewhere in between and I will ague the toss if I'm in the
mood for it, but sometimes just let it go. The times I will argue
are usually where the rip-off is outrageous, or if the guy smirks
cos he's getting one over on me, then it becomes a matter of honour,
and under no circumstances will I capitulate, frankly fuck him.
This kind of childish, pedantic behaviour has led me on some lengthy
and unnecessary walks around Delhi after refusing the extra 10 rupees
on the rickshaw. The satisfaction of non capitulation wears off
quickly in 40 degree Delhi summer.
Many pre packed goods have the retail price (MRP) marked, including
taxes, and its worth checking this before paying. If you are asked
for too much money, just point out the retail price and the guy
will give in 8 times out of 10.
For loose items where the price is not marked, always, ALWAYS ask
before you say yes. The obvious example is a rickshaw or taxi; the
guy might quote you double if you ask in advance (bargain him down),
but its 99 percent certain he will charge you 4 times the price
if you only ask at the destination. The same goes for buying handicrafts
or the like ask the price before expressing any real interest in
the goods, the more interested you are the higher you will be quoted.
Learning a few words of Hindi (in the north and parts of the south)
can help a lot. The assumption that you are an old hand may well
bring prices down at the outset. In markets when negotiations have
stalled and the price is still too rich for you, just walking away
will often bring about a price drop when you've gone a couple of
steps. If you really feel the guy is taking the piss, simply leave
and preferably buy whatever it is at the shop opposite so the first
guy can reflect on his loss. This is more satisfying in proportion
to the amount of money involved.
If you do enter into the bargaining phase for goods, be fairly
sure you want to buy the thing as its a bit more difficult morally
to say no after it appears you've agreed a price, and the vendor
will put you on the rack to make that point.
On the brighter side, in areas that see few visitors, you may never
be overcharged due to lack of experience. Coastal Karnataka struck
us as especially honest as is much of Himachal Pradesh and Orissa.
It is worth noting that their are circumstances where apparent
overcharging is legitimate (by Indian retail standards), even when
the marked price is lower. Bottled water in India is now usually
charged at less than the MRP. Before the annual budget, cigarette
manufacturers often hold back stock to wait for any tax increases,
and as supply becomes lower, wholesalers will overcharge the retailers,
then you will pay a premium. It usually easy to find out if this
is the case as all the shopkeepers will be charging the same.
Like it or not, overcharging is an apparetly natural phenomenon
in India and one way or another you have to live with it or you
will end up very hungry. The extent to which you challenge it is
up to you.