Friday, November 18, 2005

Joe Philippines - 11: Third World Shopping 101

One of the things I plan to do more of when visiting the Philippines this Christmas is to buy more. During my last visit, before my wife had ever been to the United States, she would often veto my desires to purchase a particular object saying that it was too expensive. By her standards, she was right but by my standards, it was dirt cheap. Now that she has seen what the price of some of her native things go for at Pier 1 Imports or like places, I think she will be siding with me more often on this trip.

In America, most prices are non-negotiable. You either pay it or you walk away. There are a few exceptions to this rule but not many in low volume purchases. In the Philippines, everything is negotiable. When shopping outside of the regular tourist haunts, very few objects have prices and for a very good reason. This allows the seller to adjust prices according to their perceived notion of the wealth of the buyer. If my native Filipina mother-in-law were to walk into a store, she would probably get a pretty reasonable price. If I were to walk in alone, I would probably get quoted two or three times a reasonable price by my mother-in-law's standards. If we were both to walk in together, she would probably get a price somewhere in-between and would be able to negotiate it to a closer to reasonable price albeit still a little higher than had she walked in alone. These are the facts of life and I find nothing wrong with it.

I am not going to buy anything that I don't think is worth the price. The native seller may think he is pulling one over on me by charging me more than he would a native Filipino but most likely, it is still dirt cheap compared to what I would have to pay for it back in the states. I give the seller a little extra money for the object in question and we both walk away happy customers. Nothing wrong with that. I could probably negotiate it for much the same price as my mother-in-law should I take the time to speak their tongue and live among them long enough to fully understand their economy. I'm very slowly working on learning the language but I'll never be there long enough to fully understand the economy and so I am happy for slightly over local retail.

My wife taught me how to ask for the price and almost all vendors say the number of pesos in English so I can usually wheel and deal from there. Sometimes the English numbers are so accented that I need my wife to interpret but most of the time I understood. On my last trip to the Philippines, I bought very few things in my wife's presence for the above mentioned reason. However, I did sneak out when she wasn't around and bought several of the better things I found in my travels and managed to do all right with the negotiations. The sellers all love to see me walk into their store because in their eyes, all white westerners are rich and they will practically run over all local customers in their haste to show me their goods. It also helps in the sense that they just hate the thought of me spending my money at another shop so they will quickly reduce their prices at the first sense that I am going to walk. That is step one. Step two is when I have to tell them how much I am willing to pay for the item. They will inevitably say they can't accept that much or more than likely give you a third price. If it is what I feel is fair, I usually pay the third price otherwise I go to step three and start to walk out. Sometimes you get the low price and sometimes you walk away with nothing but your pesos still burning a hole in your pocket. If I really want to pull out all the stops, I will at this point, contract my mother-in-law to buy it on my behalf on another day. She is guaranteed to get it for the lowest possible price.

What fascinates me and what I want to purchase are considered by most Filipinos to be just their everyday ordinary items. All the tourist spots and souvenir shops sell little knick knacks that you would never find in a Filipino household. Little stick men and women figures with a barrel around them that when removed, expose extremely exaggerated sexual anatomy are everywhere in stores but never in a Filipino house. On the last trip, I bought handmade brooms that they use to sweep their floors, a couple small hand carved statues and masks. All very unique to the United States and very common to the average Filipino. What I would like to buy is a whole bunch of solid mahogany furniture that locals carve and try to peddle along major highways from a nippa hut camp but I haven't worked out the logistics or the cost of getting it home. Again very average there but extremely unique and probably very pricey if you could find them here.

So this time when I head to the Philippines in a little over a month, I plan on taking a little more spending money, more bags to haul some of it back, and maybe depending on the prices, ship some of it back on a slow boat from China, or at least from that vicinity. Knowing how practical and frugal my wife is, I still will probably have to sneak out to buy some of it.

No comments: