Potatoes. A simple leaf bowl full of fried potatoes from a street vendor. That’s all I wanted last night.
And while I did indeed end up eating a plate of potatoes from the potato street vendor that I encountered while wandering around the streets of the Pahar Ganj neighborhood in Delhi, the truth is, I probably paid more for those potatoes than anyone has ever paid for such potatoes in the history of potato street vendors.
Here’s the mistake I made. After walking up to the vendor, I immediately asked for some fried potatoes and it wasn’t until the vendor had already begun the process of preparing them that I asked for the price. When I did ask “How much?”, he answered with “100 Rupees”, which I knew to be a highly inflated amount created just for foreigners like me.
I replied with a “What? That’s not the normal price”, to which the vendor, without ever hesitating, smoothly stated, “Normal price sir, everyone gets same price”. And then my potatoes were ready and because I wanted to eat those eleven small pieces of potato, I just handed over a 100 Rupees note and walked away.
Okay, paying 100 Rupees, which equals about $2 USD, is not the end of the world of course. However, overpaying for things everyday is certainly not something that any of us wants to become a regular occurrence while traveling.
And as I walked back to my hotel last night, while munching on those potatoes, I realized that there is a very simple method, one that I had in fact used before, that would have made it very easy to avoid being ripped off, not only by this particular vendor, but by anyone I buy something from while overseas.
All I needed to do was wait and watch.
Yes, had I stood next to, or nearby, the potato vendor and simply waited thirty seconds or maybe one minute until a local person ordered some potatoes, I could have then approached the vendor and observed how much the local person paid. Had I done this, I would have quickly learned that the local price is 20 Rupees and then I would have simply handed that same amount to the vendor upon receiving my own potatoes.
But enough about potatoes. What if I was buying something else?
Well, this method works for just about anything. Even today I used this method when buying an egg sandwich from a street vendor, while buying fruit from a fruit stand and before sitting down for a shave at a small barber shop. And in each case I simply took note of how much a local paid and then I asked for what I wanted and paid the normal price myself, without ever having to utter the words ‘how much?’, a question that often invites others to try and get a little more money out of us travelers.
Just to recap… All you have to do is wait a moment or two and then watch a local make the very same transaction that you want to make. Observe how much money exchanges hands and then go for it yourself, confidently paying the very same amount. It’s so simple, but so very effective, and it will absolutely help ensure that you don’t have to eat 100 Rupee potatoes during your own adventures around the planet.
What do you think? Do you use this method already? Does it make sense?
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Thanks for the tip! It’s one of those things I sometimes forget.
Excellent tip! I’ve made the same mistake myself but I always feel embarrassed for some reason to argue unless I find out the price beforehand. Life lessons! 🙂
Great post. I have been ripped off more times then I can count. They always know I’m a geri. I always ask for the price first. Asking other locals is a good idea.
It’s funny that you mentioned you got ripped off by being a foreigner. But believe me, I get ripped off every time, being an Indian, when I travel to a different state. Hell, I got ripped off in Delhi itself. Forget about speaking in english, if they sense a different accent in your “Hindi”, they will try to rip you off. But I guess it exists everywhere in the world.You can’t rise if you don’t fall.
Hey Sunil – That’s interesting to hear and I guess you have to follow this wait and watch method as well in order to get the normal price, which is crazy considering that it is your own country!
He he…..yes, it’s my own country but I’m still a foreigner when I travel to a new state. For example, when I went to Bangalore, and I asked for an auto rickshaw fare, the price went up to 50 rupees more, just because I’ve asked the price in English (it would have been the same if I’d asked in Hindi). So I’ve adapted and implemented the “Walkaway Principle”. If you think the price is high, just walkaway 10/15 ft and ask the next rickshaw until you get the price you think is fair.
Also, Google translate has turned out to be my best friend. If I’m travelling to a new state, I just get the equivalent of “How much” in the local language and then it’s an easy ride!
This is the exact same tactic I used all over Central and South America! So easy and makes the experience less stressful.
Hey Stephanie – Glad to hear it’s worked in other parts of the world too!
Funny how getting ripped off, even for a tiny amount, can make us so mad! I fell for this buying oranges on the bus in Indonesia – I paid $2 when they were supposed to cost less than $1. Only a dollar, but SO ANNOYING. Haha. Anyway, great advice – I’ll be using this from now on!
Hey Callie – It’s definitely good to remind ourselves that even when we’re ripped off, usually it’s not such a big amount. But of course, once we get burned a couple of times, we do start to pay closer attention and try to limit the number of times we pay more!
Based on this advice, would you broaden it to say if there are NO locals buying from the vendor to avoid that vendor?
Hey Shannon – In general I will only buy things from vendors that are located in busy areas and where I can see, or have seen, many locals buying from them. If a vendor looks isolated and as if they haven’t sold anything for a while, I definitely avoid it.
Oh the joy of LIVING in a country where that sort of behaviour is, let’s say common, and we will forever be the foreigners. Even after ten years here, every transaction has its own little challenges. 😉
Hey Julia – Ha…so it never ends??
What I loved the most was in Cambodia and Laos where the signs clearly stated different costs for foreigners and locals. No sugarcoating it, we’re ripping you off and there’s nothing you can do about it! Now that I’m in Thailand, I think it may be a bit different, though. At least prices are marked on street vendors…
Hey Ava – That’s interesting as I didn’t remember that from Cambodia and Laos. That sure is a crazy system.
Great, simple advice! What about being ripped off for transport (buses, taxis, etc)?
Hey Amy – For taxis, I wrote about how I handle that in this post: How to Avoid Being Ripped Off By Taxi Drivers
I have never used this method but it is so simple it is genius. I love how you just walk up and pay the local price without saying anything. Haha. I will have to try this when I’m traveling.
Hey Will – It’s all about confidence. If a vendor thinks you know what you’re doing (and can’t detect that it is your first time making such a transaction), then they will assume they won’t be able to rip you off.
I hate getting ripped off, even if it is only for a small amount of money. If someone quotes a crazy high price, I usually walk away. I hate rewarding the scammers.
Hey John – I’m with you on that and not sure why I willingly fell for this scam. I guess it happens every now and then but after this one, I’m sure it won’t happen again during this trip to India.
It’s also interesting to note that some vendors, at least in Thailand that I’ve noted, do not bargain. If you ask, they state a price and stick with that price. I suppose they feel there are so many farangs willing to pay what they ask that they don’t have to bargain. I’ve stood by a fruit vendor in Kanchanaburi and watched a local pay <20 Baht for three bags of fruit, then walked up to ask how much and he quoted me 20 BT for ONE bag of fruit! Next time I won't ask.
Hey Russell – That does happen for sure…and often times they’ll let us walk away without having bought anything, just to avoid revealing the real price.
Another small tip is that, no street food in India will cost Rs 100 for 1 dish. You can expect to pay a maximum of Rs 40 to 50 for it. The point is that as the vendors cannot afford the shop rent, they vend their items on the streets, at low prices. Also, If you buy from a shop they will mostly have a board put upfront with the prices.
Hey Shashank – Thanks for that information!
Great story, and one I’m sure many travellers can relate to. Although this doesn’t apply to street food, it is always good to check the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) in India. Stores and kiosks are technically not allowed to sell above that price – that is if you have enough to time to check before the sale has been finalised.
Hey Addison – That’s a good point about India and I always check the MRP on the package of things I buy from shops and kiosks. It makes things so easy! Now if only they would put a MRP on the side of vendor carts 🙂
delhi street potatoes!!! now i’m hungry.
Hey Rose – Well, come on over to Delhi and we’ll meet up for a feast!
Brilliant!!! I have found that finding a local friend can also help in these situations. Finding others who have been to or are living in the area that you’re traveling can be a huge help. But watching, only carrying change and lastly asking someone other than the vendor how much …. a fantastic workflow!
Hey Ben – It seems to be a good, simple process for those spur of the moment purchases when we aren’t around anyone we know who can help us out.
yeah, this is a perfect solution for paying for something on street 😀
and just another option, if there is not so many customer to buy the thing, don’t buy the thing at the first store. probably there is another store there 🙂
and if the thing is more expensive, walk around of the stand or the vendor, hang around more, as earl said :), and then find a chance talking with somebody to ask the price haha as i’m a poor tourist.
and it’s just something i want to tell a bit, even i’m a poor, while traveling in developing countries, it’s another opportunity that i can pay them more with mind of paying a charity. earl said that, it’s not the end of the world of course! 😀
Hey David – All good advice, thanks for sharing! And it is always important to remember that paying a little more is not such a terrible thing in the end…so it should never ruin our day 🙂
What I frequently do is confidently hand them significantly more money than it can possibly cost and then just wait for my change. They assume I know the correct price and give me correct change. That trick has worked all over the world!
Hey Nancy – That’s an interesting trick…although, if you don’t know the correct price, how do you know if the change they give you is the correct amount?
I live in Mexico. I often ask a cab how much is the price from one place to another before getting inside his cab. I have an idea how much it would cost from one place to another. If one cab driver gives me a higher price than usual, then I just wait for another cab and negotiate with him. I would not get inside a cab w/o first knowing how much it would cost to my destination. Many cabs will readily rip me off if I don’t know the price before hand.
Hey Angie – I guess it depends but when I lived in Mexico, and I knew how much the local price should be, I would just get in, go for the ride and hand over the correct set fare. And I never had a problem as this is exactly what locals do in the areas that I lived in.
Great advice as always, cheers.
Awesome! I was just explaining this same process to a Colombiano yesterday when he asked how I avoided being ripped off. That and always carrying small change in my pocket. Like you, I do get ripped off occasionally but it’s part of being a gringa in South America.
Hey Peggy – It’s part of being a foreigner in almost every part of the world 🙂 Glad that you’re keeping it to a minimum though…
And always make it a point to carry a stash of small bills/change, especially when buying from street vendors.
Hey Mike – Exactly. While in India, I keep most of my money in one pocket and then a small amount of small bills in the other pocket so that I don’t pull out all my money just to make a small transaction.
I always feel like I’m going to pay a little more anyway, but you’re very right, I’ve done this while buying street food in Central America. I just look to see what the locals hand the vendor, and I have that amount ready in my hand when it’s my turn.
Hey Lauren – That’s how I do it too…just hand over the correct amount and don’t give the person a chance to rip you off.
Absolutely. Wait and watch! Or, what I often do, is just ask someone nearby if they could tell me the local price of something. Nothing burns more than the gringo tax (foreigner tax) lol.
Hey TW – I understand that such a gringo tax is unavoidable at times, but keeping those times to a minimum is always ideal!
Something like this is going to happen to tourists but I agree it should not be happening. You can always ask the person next to you, how much they are paying and take it from there. Interesting article.
Hey Shalu – Absolutely good advice!
Thanks for the sound advice! I will be quitting Van Dwelling in the coming years, and traveling abroad, these are great tidbits of info.