One of the most daunting realities of life in India is bargaining. The threat of having to haggle with people on the street haunted me before I moved here and well into my first month. I avoided shopping on the street, taking to heart the words of caution from well-meaning friends and family members. “You’ll be targeted because you’re white/a foreigner/don’t speak Hindi,” everyone warned me. I frequented shops with fixed prices and promised myself I would learn to bargain at some point. That day came much sooner than I expected when our local supermarket suddenly closed (temporarily- “due to domestic problems”). I was forced to confront one of my biggest fears as I headed out to the corner to buy veggies from the local vendor. Later that night I sent Sam out without me to find out how much Indians pay for the same items. Guess what? Same price. I tested it out when my father-in-law visited, too, and happily discovered that the men who work on my corner are extremely honest.
For the most part my experience in Bombay has been consistent. Rickshawalas use the meter, veggie vendors quote the same prices to Indians and foreigners, and street hawkers will bargain down to a lower price than stores offer. When my friend Laura visited in February we bought some souvenirs on the street. I think the guy was so surprised to hear me speak Hindi (I know the numbers pretty well) that he gave me some kind of special discount on a few items. When I checked out a local discount store that carries the same items I was shocked to see how little I’d paid on the street.
Having a series of such positive experiences has made me a little less vigilant when I’m out and about in Bombay. Then, every once in a while, something happens that wakes me up again. Yesterday I took a taxi from the American Consulate to a shop near Churchgate station. Upon arriving at my destination the driver quoted 40 rupees, which was way too much. Every driver carries a rate card that shows the charges according to the meter display. When I asked him in Hindi to give me the rate card, he bargained himself down to 29 rupees.