#161 A Good Bargain
submitted by Kabul Zoo
EAWs love a good bargain. This is fortuitous as in their line of work, stationed in some dirt poor country with a devalued currency and no effective tax administration, there are bargains aplenty.
However, as with most transactions between the EAW and the local population, moral, ethical, and ecumenical considerations must be analysed at considerable length before said transaction can take place to ensure that the principles the EAW holds so dear are not violated. This process also, handily, helps the EAW to justify, en route to a $300 a night hotel, haggling over the price of a watermelon through the window of the Land Cruiser with a women not wearing any shoes. It goes without saying of course that the cost of said Land Cruiser and hotel are not coming out of the EAWs pocket, but being met by his or her employer.
Every EAW has read a Lonely Planet guide, all of which contain a section on ‘costs’ and a paragraph or two on haggling. “The aim isn’t to drive the price in to the ground, but rather for both buyer and seller to go away happy…” “Rubbish!” the EAW will sneer. “The whole point is to drive the price in to the ground!” This ensures the EAW isn’t “distorting the market” or “making it difficult for the next guy.” When it comes to an EAW spending his or her own money, all trade is fair trade…. “If it wasn’t a fair price, he wouldn’t have accepted it.”
The other standard argument for bagging a bargain is that all EAWs feel they are sacrificing an enormous salary and a comfortable life back home, which they would be enjoying fully had they not humbly answered the call of the world’s poor and flown (in economy) to some developing country backwater to help end global poverty. “If I was back in London I’d be earning twice as much as I do now, etc etc.”
A good bargain is of course useful ammunition in proving EAW credentials in conversation with other EAWs. Nothing screams newbie louder than paying over the odds for a taxi ride or a bag of aubergines at the market. Everything for sale has a mystical ‘local price.’ To discover and to be charged this price is tangible proof that the EAW is street savvy, has blended in, is on her or his way to true acceptance in the local community. However, there is always some uncertainty over whether the street smart EAW really has discovered the fabled ‘local price’, opening the door for lots of fun and games for the seasoned expat. “You paid how much?!? He saw you coming!” will be the response, even if the newbie actually got a good price for the Zimbabwean soapstone statue or Pakistani disco cheetah (see photo).
A cruel irony of EAW life is that it is always the least deserving (namely diplomats) who can bag the best bargains. The diplomatic passports EAWs always keep their receipts. You never see them filling their cars at the local Engen garage. A monthly return to the tax authorities ensures a healthy refund of all that VAT and sales tax. These EAWs only fill their SUVs at the duty-free pump at the embassy. Tightasses.
Surrounded by all these bargains, it is easy to lose a sense of proportion when it comes to prices and spending money. The EAW, burdened by the knowledge that he or she can easily spend the equivalent of a month’s salary of a local manual labourer on one meal at a flashy restaurant, will try to reign in his or her spending, buying dodgy locally produced margarine rather than the nice imported stuff, getting a foam mattress rather than box spring, the Ugandan Waragi rather than Bombay Sapphire. Over a month those little deprivations all add up… to about $40… which, on that breather break back in his or her home country, the EAW will spend on a single round of drinks. Was it really worth all that suffering?
EAW bargain hunting, however, is limited to when the EAW is spending his or her own money. When spending someone else’s money (eg., their employer’s) all those high-falutin’ principles fly out the window. Booking a workshop? The Serena it is! Hiring a local for the team? Lets bump up the salary just to ensure we get someone with sufficient ‘capacity!’ Booking that flight home? Sorry Rwandair. No seatback TV screen and no frequent flyer points? Emirates it is then. Anyway, the EAW needs to make sure the burn rate is high as everyone knows there’s nothing worse than an unspent budget.
EAWs love a good bargain.