Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to give money effectively and politely

image from here

I would love to hear what you guys think about this, which was in today's New York Times.  It's a piece about how to be helpful when giving money in foreign countries, whether by charity, tip, or payment.

I think it is spot-on (and brings to mind a lot of little tiffs between my friend and I while we were in Asia about giving to beggars... she was much more comfortable with it than I was!).  I particularly like his advice to ask for a higher quantity when bartering, rather than a lower price.  That is a huge mistake I have made when traveling, to barter down to what I feel a fair price is.  Sometimes I knew I was being too tough, but was just so tired or angry from something else in my day, and I admit I could be less-than-pleasant.  So the idea of just asking for a higher quantity is great -- it lets the seller get the price they wanted, and you don't feel taken advantage of.

I would love to hear what you have to say about this issue -- it's a toughie for travelers everywhere.


  1. IMHO this article is poorly written and contains a TON of bad advice! He gives money to handlers of captive animals that will be punished if they don't "perform". This only encourages this cruel and demeaning "entertainment".
    As for the idea of asking for three times the quantity for the same price how on earth does that make the slightest bit of sense?? The seller is being forced to accept a 60% reduction in the asking price. Give me a break ... or give the poor seller a break.
    Street food...yeah, right. That's why tourists all pack their Cipro before leaving home.
    I could go on, but hope the author is simply a naive, pompous yahoo.

  2. Peter,

    I gotta say I disagree with what you are saying. I actually don't see anywhere in this article a mention of animals or their handlers (though if I've missed it, do let me know!). That is a tricky issue, and I will say that when I was in India, my friend and I refused to pay the keepers of captive birds because it is such a cruel practice (you pay to set them free, but they are such damaged creatures that they either die in the wild or are trained to return to captivity).

    Also, when I travel in developing countries, I am aware that I am generally being WAY overcharged. When I've had the opportunity to spend a couple weeks in an area, at least, then I get a sense of the "real" prices of things, and so I find it exhausting to be continually cahrged multiple times those prices. Asking for a higher quantity is a way to give some dignity to seller, so they don't feel cowed into accpeting less money than they want to. Meanwhile, I feel respected as a buyer.

    My BA is in economics, and I spent a lot of time studying development economics and traveling. Frankly, what I see for a local economy that survives by overcharging tourists is a lack of self-sufficiency, and this makes what is already a poor area into an economically unstable area. We have only to look at Moshi, Tanzania (where I lived for month in 2006) to see an example of a community that is so reliant on tourism that the degradation of Mount Kilimanjaro and the potential lack of tourists may well devastate the area.

    Last note -- street food is awesome. If you eat hot, meatless food, and wait until your stomach has acclimated to an area, then you don't actually take much of a risk eating it.

    One last question -- if Salwen is a naive, pompous yahoo, I've just got to ask what you call a tourist who is happy to get ripped off, happy to be treated like an outsider the entire time they travel, and only eat "sterilised" food? Why do they travel? To buy overpriced crap and eat at a Marriott? I can do that at home.

    I appreciated Salwen's article because he does not gloss over the issue of poverty. Handing over wads of cash to poor people does not make them well-off; it supports an unstable economy and in many cases, an ignorance regarding foreigners.



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