And by “go business school” I mean, watch The Office episode where Ryan says that “it is ten times more expensive to sign a new customer (than to keep an existing one).” I think the woman who sells me my tofu-breakfast thing missed that episode. As well as this article which goes more in-depth (and a little over my head.)
What happened may sound petty, especially when you learn that it was all over 10¢. In the US, I wouldn’t even pick a dime up off the ground (a quarter on the other hand…hello!) But like everything else in the world, the amount is irrelevant. It’s the principle.
This woman sits on the sidewalk near my office and makes breakfasty tofu concoctions for 8,000 VND (40¢.) Because I’m nice and can’t be bothered with sad, wrinkled small bills (amounting to 5¢ and 10¢ cents) I give her a 10,000 VND bill. The first couple times she went to give me change, and I waved my hand like, nah, that’s aiiight.
The 10,000+ VND bills are made of plasticky material, similar to Australian money. The small bills are more like paper, don’t hold their shape and seem dirtier:
Despite my best efforts, I’d accumulated a 8,000 VND worth of these sad, wrinkled bills. When I saw her the other morning, I handed her the money and she was like, “no. 10 thousand!” So I gave her a 10,000 VND note and walked away thinking, Since when, 10,000?! I guess my giving her extra actually raised the price. What world are we in?
I ran the situation by a couple people at work. Someone said, “it’s because you’re Westerner. She charges you more.” Um, no. She said 8,000 VND at first and now it’s magically 10,000 VND. If she wanted 10,000 she could have easily said that from the beginning. And who knows, maybe 8,000 VND is the Westerner price. I don’t care about that.
Another person said, “You spoiled her. Now she expects it from you.” I said, “What?! So if I do something nice for you, then you’ll start to expect it?” She said, “Well no. Of course not. But that lady doesn’t know better. She’s greedy.”
I would have resumed giving the woman 10,000 VND. But now that she’s expecting and requiring that extra out of me, forget it. Yes, it’s just 10¢. And she might be poor as hell. Regardless, she’s gotten on my nerves and I’m not messing with her anymore.
Nomadic Matt One of my favorite travel bloggers dislikes Vietnam more than any other country in the world. You can read his detailed post about Vietnam here, along with the 300+ comments which are just as interesting. I hadn’t seen it firsthand until now, but I think the mentality of the string of people he encountered is similar to the one guiding my Tofu Lady. It’s hard to put my finger on, or wrap my head around because in logical terms, the person is shooting herself in the foot. It makes no sense long-term.
I posted this pic before, but here’s the tofu thing (beside the iced coffee). The whole thing is warm, with a kind of fruity, tapioca-y sauce. It’s runny, but I eat it with a spoon. (Er, ate it with a spoon.)
ON A SIDE NOTE: if anyone wants some Vietnamese currency, let me know. I don’t collect currencies myself, but I know that some people like to. Seriously – 10,000 VND is about 50¢, so speak up!