One of the common annoyances of living in a foreign country, especially one where you are assumed to be wealthier than the locals, is constantly being overcharged for everyday items and even transportation. Growing up in a shopping-mall society it’s already a hassle to rarely see price tags on things in much of the world, and that seems to be at least partly caused by the fact that the price can be different for each customer.
Something I never would have expected is that there’s at least one part of the world where it’s the expats who are overcharging the locals on a regular basis, and that’s in the United Arab Emirates. Reading an article about how many Emirati get charged several times higher prices whenever they go shopping in their traditional white kandura, it again shows that it’s human nature for people to try to take advantage of other people when given a chance.
The UAE is Bizarro World for expats
Particularly in the biggest cities in the UAE of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the number of expats outnumber the locals by something like 10 to 1. The local Emirati are assumed to be part of oil families and be millionaires, and it’s true that many of them are, but not all of them. Some live on middle-class (or maybe upper-middle-class) incomes, so they find it especially annoying when they are quoted astonomical prices for things like clothing that foreigners are charged regular prices for.
According to the article, some of them have taken to shopping in Western clothes instead in order to be quoted foreigner prices. It’s hard not to smile at such an odd situation where expats actually have the upper hand, but still it’s obviously discrimination and some people are suffering because of it.
A local price and a foreigner price
Having been all over Asia for the last couple of years in addition to previous trips, I’m used to the phenomenon where foreigners are assumed to be rich, and therefore will be quoted higher prices for things. In most cases I personally don’t mind it much, especially when the “foreigner price” is still quite cheap to me. In other words, if I have to pay $1 for a large bahn mi sandwich in Vietnam, I don’t mind too much, even if locals only pay half that.
On the other hand, it can get upsetting when you are living in a place where prices aren’t terribly cheap, and then you are asked to pay double from there. A few months after I got to this town in Turkey I bought some socks for a bit under US$2 a pair, and a couple weeks later a different sales clerk tried to charge me twice as much for the same exact socks. I pointed out the problem and eventually got the new ones for even cheaper than the first ones, but most foreigners certainly just pay the high price and then walk away wondering if they just got ripped off.
Learning the language and the people is the best strategy
I admit that I’ve done a poor job of learning Turkish and making friends with shopkeepers here, but at least they recognize me and give me decent deals because they know I might come back. Having talked to many who’ve learned Turkish and also befriended the shopkeepers, I’m told that prices on many things suddenly drop that way.
It’s not surprising to hear that when two people enter a shop and ask for a price in English they’ll be quoted one thing, but when one of them replies back in Turkish asking if that’s the real price they’ll usually get something like the “local price” right away.
Learning languages isn’t easy, especially when you don’t really have to, but this is yet another situation where it seems like it actually has financial rewards in addition to social ones.
Do you get the local price abroad or do you feel like you are always paying the foreigner price, like the locals in the UAE are?