Considering it’s long history if being invaded by other countries, Vietnamese people are surprisingly kind and generous towards foreigners. Just the other day, I was asking about the tea in a restaurant and where I could buy it. The lady patiently explained what this particular tea is called, how to ask about it in the market and how to prepare it at home. When I inquired how much I should expect to pay, she vanished. Ten minutes later, she was back from the market with a bag of tea for me.
But no relationship is without it’s conflicts, and there’s at least area where people sometimes don’t see eye to eye: paying the Vietnam foreigner price instead of the local price.
Vietnam Foreigner Price
In many places in Vietnam, the price isn’t written, and there often isn’t even a menu. So how you do you know the price? You don’t. Here’s a really simple example: you have a sugar cane juice on the side of the road. Normally they cost 7,000-8,000 VND. I’ve seen them in my neighborhood as cheap as 5,000. But what do you do (and more importantly, how do you feel) when the lady, in a moment of audaciousness, wants you to pay 10,000 (or more!) a glass?
Of course you just pay, but let’s follow this a bit further and consider the two sides, for both the local seller and the foreign customer.
Foreigners should pay more
They earn way more money than locals and have a very easy life here. That extra 2,000 VND is gonna mean a lot more to me than it will to him. Plus, this guys not gonna even know the difference. He’s probably a tourist.
My price is my price
I don’t care where you’re from. I’m just trying to make an honest buck, and changing different people different prices just isn’t part of my strategy.
Who cares about an extra 2,000 VND?
That’s nothing to me. If this lady wants to charge me a bit more, that’s fine. I really don’t care, and it’s stupid to complain when life here is so easy.
Why should I pay more just because I’m not Vietnamese?
That’s totally discriminatory and just rude. In my country, you could never get away with setting different price tiers based on people’s skin color or where they’re from. Side note: I’ve heard that Vietnamese tourists get overcharged as much as foreigners, if not more so.
While I think it’s trivial to argue the price, especially on something so small, there are times when it’s just to glaring to ignore. In these situations, I have said something about it and have gotten results. To continue with the same examples, I sat down along the river in Hoi An (very very touristy area, mind you) and had a sugar cane juice. I asked for my bill at the same time as the Vietnamese dude sitting next to me. His was 8; mine was 10. When I asked the lady about the discrepancy in price, she just shrugged, said ‘OK’ and handed 2,000 VND. Now, do I care about that money? No. But in a situation like that when it’s so obvious she’s charging me more, I will say something.
To learn more about the unique and sometimes baffling culture of Vietnam, book a food tour with a local expat guide, where you can ask questions, talk about how stuff works here and, most importantly, enjoy some great street food.