Posts Tagged ‘poor people’

28. Rich kids pretending to be poor

Friday, December 4th, 2009

As I mentioned a couple posts ago (see 27. The Light Skin Paradox), human beings long for what they don’t have. Undiscovered people want to become famous. Famous people want privacy. Poor people want to be rich. Rich people want to, well, blend in.

Sure, there are wealthy people who are more than happy to floss on the regular, but backpacking is the antithesis of flossing. Makes sense because just like hot women, rich people don’t usually backpack anyway — they stay in 5-star accomodations, not 16-bunk dorm rooms.

A small minority of affluent travelers, however, are willing to slum it on the backpacking scene. These people are invariably young, adventurous types from good families, with good educations. Bursting with idealism and a desire to “see the world,” these rich kids quickly adopt the typical backpacker affections for leftist politics, environmentalism, spontanaeity and frugality.

Obviously, it’s the frugality part that is unconvincing. I’d compare it to how rich kids shop at thrift stores to find grungy retro duds, while poor people are there out of necessity. Backpacking is about survival, about scraping by on nickels and dimes, eating sparingly and sleeping on trains to avoid paying for a night’s stay in a hostel. Most backpackers would rather stay in nice hotels, but they can’t afford to, so they go backpacking and in doing so, learn to appreciate the minimalist charms of traveling on the cheap. Indeed, rich kids learn to appreciate them too (maybe mom and dad only give them cash in certain increments, I don’t know), but they occasionally slip up.

Common slip-ups include:

  • Getting drunk and buying the entire bar a round of drinks.
  • Staying in a hotel after scouring the city for two whole hours and discovering all the hostels are full. Meanwhile, your friends opt to sleep in the train station, but you insist they should stay with you. But they get denied in the lobby as the hotel is hip to your game and they end up sleeping in the train station after all.
  • Missing your flight, but miraculously arriving at your destination on the next possible one.
  • Buying lavish souvenirs and shipping them home immediately.
  • Consistenly buying expensive meals and playing it down as taking advantage of a favorable currency exchange rate.
  • Calling home all the time, on mom and dad’s calling card.
  • Enduring what normally would be a trip-ending calamity and not having to go home at all.
  • Telling everybody back home you’re going to said country to work for six months to a year and spending six months to a year traveling and not working at all.

Why have I paid such close attention to the mundane tendencies of rich-kid backpackers? I’m just jealous… and poor. And poor people want to be rich.

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24. Bargaining

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Every minute of every hour, in the public markets of the world, people are bargaining over the price of goods. Backpackers, most of whom are financially scraping along their trips, must brave these markets to get the best deals possible and make what little cash they have last. Since bargaining is a battle of wits, weak-willed backpackers from developed nations are traditionally terrible at it.


Conversely, third-world vendors excel at bargaining. In order to win an argument over price, one must have a hustler’s mentality, a comic disregard for social niceties (almost to the point of a mean streak) and an interminable amount of patience. You need balls and time. Poor people have plenty of both.

Many backpackers will beenou about how good of bargainers they are. They’ll claim that bargaining is a simple process of a) asking the price of an item, b) lowballing and getting denied, c) faking a departure and d) getting the price you want or meeting somewhere in between. If it were so easy, nobody would ever complain about bargaining — they’d just follow the four-step path to public market dominance. It is difficult.

The reason it is so difficult is because bargaining is often a dispute between a poor vendor and a rich traveler. As previously mentioned, poor people have balls and time. People from wealthy, “civilized,” fast-food countries are too nice to get into fights and too impatient to wait on anything. In then end, the poor saps need the extra 10 cents to survive. We don’t.

A vast majority of travelers will give up on the last 10 cents. People say, “It’s not worth the hassle. They need it more than I do, anyways.” These are unsuccessful bargainers. The good ones will not give up. It’s the principle that eats at them. They’ll stoop to the vendor’s level and haggle it out to the bitter end.

Backpackers, on the other hand, have trains to catch and sights to see. And besides, meeting somewhere in between is easier on the conscience. See #3, below.

The following is a list of common barganing catch phrases and strategies salespeople will try to use on unassuming foreigners:

  1. “I give you good price!”: Of course they will. This is capitalism in its rawest form. Their profits depend on giving you a bad price.
  2. “Same same”: This has become somewhat of an institution in Thai tourism, so much so that some cheesy motherfucker had the gall to put it on a t-shirt, with “but different” on the back. Vendors will use this line to reassure a customer that their product is identical to every other vendor’s in the market. A quick rebuttal to the fake departure/threat to buy elsewhere.
  3. Classic guilt trip: Vendors will often employ a variety of sad or desperate facial expressions to dissuade you from further reducing the price.
  4. “No deal”: Vendors may quickly halt negotiations with a simple no. Some even shoo you away or encourage you to buy elsewhere. These are all tactics to pressure you into buying at the last price. Just like your fake departure, their no actually means yes.
  5. Post-deal anger: Many vendors will pretend to still be frustrated after you’ve paid and are walking away. Rest assured that they are laughing inside. 
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