Cultural Stereotypes in the Marketplace
Eva Fernandes thinks cultural stereotypes are part and parcel of the market place.
February 27, 2012 4:14 by Eva Fernandes
Yesterday I must have read this article by Emirati comedian Thamer Subaihi titled ‘I was ripped off for wearing a kandura’ at least thrice. The article isn’t exactly a compelling piece of journalism-but it seems to be an interesting discussion point-at least that is how I explain its omnipresence over my social media monitor.
If for some reason you are yet to read of the ‘sting’ operation, Subaihi chronicles an experience when he felt he was ‘ripped off for wearing a kandura.’ Donning a kandura, Subaihi found that he got excellent customer service at the electronic store he visited. When he enquired after a Sony camera in his Emirati accent, the quote he received was Dh900. Two hours later, dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, a hat, Subaihi returned to the store with a Western accent. He noticed he received absolutely no attention from the staff and was quoted Dh700 when he asked after the same camera. As he left the shop, without even asking for a lower price, ‘Dh650’ was shouted at him as the salesman tried to make his sale.
Subaihi continued prowling shops in Bur Dubai, to find a similar result wherever he went. What interests me most is the conclusion Subaihi draws from his experience-best left in his original words:
“It seems the non-Emirati version of me can bag a deal.
The stereotype that Emiratis are so well off they are willing to pay whatever is asked without a second thought is one that I find hurtful.
It is frustrating that many Emiratis’ hard-earned money is being needlessly chipped away paying for these price increases.
UAE citizens should not have to resort to wearing Western clothes and changing their accents just so they can buy goods at prices expatriates enjoy.
But this is the UAE, our country, and at the very least we deserve to be treated equally, as everyone does.”
There are so many sides to his argument to address, that I will start off with the most basic one. A well known theory in the study of salesman of small enterprises and in fact large ones too, can be put down to six words: ‘Milk him for all he’s worth.” It isn’t a new concept—and while it is despicable to some, it can be a rather admirable quality in a seasoned salesman from a distanced point of view.
As a non-resident Indian walking through bazaars in India, it is quite impressive to watch a piranha salesman observing me shop. I look Indian, but am I a local? With the slightest display of foreignness, hesitation or wealth, vendor will be quoting prices twice or thrice more than he normally would.
It doesn’t have to be much, it could just be the way I say ‘No’ or the way I shake my head—but the keen observations are surprisingly thorough. Of course, if it is an item I need desperately the double standards are less amusing and more annoying—but always the onus is on me to haggle my way to a regular price. Of course, if I am smart, I will either keep my mouth shut and let my locally-based relatives do the haggling for me or try and alter the way I speak.
That being said, stereotypes are always hurtful. I can understand the frustration Subaihi feels for having to second guess vendors in his own country—but the fact of the matter is the UAE is more or a less a regulated market with fixed prices for a variety of products and services. Surely, the stereotype “that Emiratis are so well off they are willing to pay whatever is asked without a second thought” is one that can be challenged with a little haggling. After all, one doesn’t shop in Bur Dubai for the ambiance, but the bargains.
“This is the UAE, our country, and at the very least we deserve to be treated equally, as everyone does.” Should Subaihi be excused for assuming that in the realm of business everyone is treated equally? If we open the discussion of ‘equal opportunity in business’ in the region, I’m sure we’d end up talking to no end.
Anyone who wants ‘equal prices’ have the choice of purchasing items from the malls. Oh and isn’t it interesting that Subaihi doesn’t quite address the difference in the customer service he got in garb and without? Guess there are some kinds of being treated differently that are more acceptable than others.