2015.05.17 00:00 | Kurt Tomlinson
Living in the Philippines was a daily adventure. Even something as simple as going shopping presented new and interesting challenges. This is part one of a two-part series.
I'd never bartered before visiting the Philippines. It took me several months to become accustomed to the idea, but by the end of my rotation there I was able to negotiate some pretty good deals. Eventually I was even able to turn my biggest bartering weakness, being foreign, into an advantage.
Vendors in the Philippines see young white males like myself as walking bags of money. They're keenly aware of the naivety of young foreigners like myself and they try their best to take advantage of it. Prices for me, I came to find out eventually, were often initially set at double to triple the price that would be quoted to a local. Knowing this, my first counter offer, when unaware of the actual cost of the item in question, was half.
Oftentimes half the initially quoted price was still higher than I should have paid, but it was usually the lowest most vendors were willing to settle for. Maximizing the price they got from a foreigner was a mark of pride for them, so accepting a reasonable offer was akin to losing face. Knowing this, I'd offer to buy multiple or give the impression that my other foreign friends would also buy from the vendor if the price was lowered. Whether the future purchases materialized or not, my foreignness was often enough to convince the shop owner to accept my reasonable offer.
Taxis in Manila love to barter. About 50% of taxis will claim their meter is broken or refuse your fare if you request to use the meter. (This is actually somewhat reasonable as the meter starts at about 50 cents and goes up less than 1 dollar per mile, if I recall correctly. One day I took a trip across the city of Manila in rush hour traffic for less than $20.) The proportion of metered/bartered taxis depends on time of day, location, and your patience.
Airport taxis are the worst of the lot. At MNL, there are yellow metered taxis that come so slowly that you have to wait in line for hours in order to get one. Going to Malate from MNL, a trip of about 8km, I was quoted around $30 USD from the aggressive, non-metered taxi drivers waiting outside the terminal. I tried to barter with them, but none would go lower than about $24 USD. I walked away from the airport determined to snag a taxi on a surface street. As I walked, cabbies continued to accost me, and their prices steadily declined as I got further away from the terminal. Eventually I accepted one cabby's offer of ₱300 PHP or about $7 USD.
Want to read more about shopping in the Philippines? Check out the other part of this series:
Photo of Bonifacio Global City by Roberto Verzo