Are You Too Shy to Haggle? You're Not Alone!

Monday, May 30, 2016


We Travel, We Care is a series of essays discussing and exploring issues related to travel and tourism.

I will say it. The Philippines is a country of cheapskates. And, for better or for worse, we are proud of it. 

For all our pageantry (often mistaken for hospitality), Filipinos would sooner relinquish the Spratly Islands than be caught dead passing up a bargain. We are a nation of experts on sales (from factory to seat) and buy-one-take-ones. If we can get more by spending less, we collectively and rhetorically ask, "why the hell not?" If we can get it for free, all the better. In this country divided not only by topography but by ideals, a 50% discount has a better chance of uniting it than Rodrigo Duterte.

It is easy to see where we're coming from. Even with reports of a booming economy, the Philippines has yet to shed the accouterments of a Third World nation. Poverty is still strikingly present. Crime and corruption are undeniably rampant. Our scenario, at this point, is the chicken-or-the-egg, wherein you'll get philosophical debates instead of answers about which of our many problems came first. We're in a proverbial vicious cycle, and, really, we're left to fend off for ourselves. It's painful how easy it is to see where we're coming from.

For Filipino travelers, however, it appears that getting a good deal and saving money appeal less to necessity than to the ego. It is especially true when it comes to haggling or, as we call it, tawad.

In the traveling community, variations of "always haggle" are constantly given when people ask advice on how to save on their adventure. You would hear it from others, but, I tell you now, never from me. I'm just too shy to haggle. I'm not even sure if "shy" is the proper word. When I'm on a trip, I don't ask for discounts. I'd exclaim how expensive a thing is, often eliciting a tawad proffer from the seller, but I never initiate. This habit – or lack thereof – had started when I was still in high school. 

I think I was about 15 when, for our Filipino class, we read a short story involving a man who asks his son to buy salt. I don't remember much from it except what the man had told his son right before the latter went on his way. He said not to ask for a discount because doing so undermines a person's hardwork. It made quite an impression on me, so much so that it had changed my perspective on haggling forever. From that day forward, tawad had been relegated to a much less prominent place in my life. A difficult (and laughable) thing, I must say, for in some places, like in the Philippines, tawad is deeply embedded in the culture. Here, it is socially accepted, lauded even. Haggling seems to have evolved into a cultural practice, elevated to a norm. Yet I still don't subscribe to it. Its merits do not convince me. 

When I travel, I always keep in mind that the locals may be lucky to live in a beautiful place but more often they don't get the chance to leave and see beauty elsewhere. Most of them can't afford to eat three times a day, much less travel. And so, I don't haggle. I feel that whenever I buy whatever it is they're selling at its original price I'm empowering them, affirming their hard work and deterring them from engaging in less noble livelihood. That's one of the essence of tourism, see – providing sustainable means of living to the community. Without tourism, and visitors to patronize them, locals would have been cutting down trees instead of guiding hikers, throwing dynamite into the sea instead of ferrying travelers – worse: committing heinous crimes just to not die of hunger

I tried but I couldn't bring myself to ask a local vendor who's trudging under the searing heat to bring the price down. I'm virtually incapable of bargaining with a habal-habal driver. I know that makes me a loser for some of you. Others may think that's bad practice for a DIY traveler. Well, to each his own. Believe it or not, I've found that there are plenty other ways to save during an adventure. And yes, it involves diskarte – lots of it. But no, diskarte doesn't always include tawad. Being kind and discerning will take you much farther

I know a few hardcore hagglers who do it just because they get a sense of pride, and often at the expense of the vendors. They drive the price down so low, the seller suffers a loss instead of gaining a profit. And because he has mouths to feed, the seller gives in. Tell me that isn't selfish. Like I said, it's easy to see where we're coming from. That woman peddling souvenirs would not be risking heat stroke if she had any other choice. If she could get a better-paying job, I'm sure she would. I hope you get my point. Now it's different when you feel you're being taken advantage of. I say trust your guts. If you think something is unfair, speak your mind and respectfully demand a fair price. There's also always the option of walking away. 

I'm not saying that haggling is bad, okay. It's... interesting, I guess. I just hope that travelers, Filipino or otherwise, never get to a point that they feel entitled, that they deserve special treatment and should get every perk. I've learned, after two years of traveling, to never think yourself better than others, never think ill of our fellow. Don't think you're being scammed or that you will be. Don't think bad thoughts, generally. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Trust. More often than not, kindness prevails and, soon, you'll find that saving money matters less than having your faith restored in humanity

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