Honest Business in Thailand

Seven, eight, nine... stop!!! Twelve minutes and nine seconds! That's the time it took to have my $7-00 bottle of gas delivered. It wasn't a special order. Nor did I run out of gas while having a soufflé in the oven. Just the normal service, delivery included. Not bad for lazy Thailand, where the judge falls asleep on the bench and the cars drive around the soi dogs sleeping in the road.

Ordering gas is no exception. Buying a couch, installing mosquito screens and fixing my air-con were done with the same speed and agility. Selling merchandise and delivering it straight away mean the deal is done and the money is in the pocket. Competition in Thailand is fierce and Thais are very enterprising. Cash is the only way of payment. Only the tourist areas and the big chains accept credit cards.

Bangkokians are spoilt for choice. Every morning the pick-up with foodstuff passes through our village. Housewives and restaurant owners buy rice, meat and vegetables for the day. In the evening the fruit truck loaded with fruit in season - watermelons, grapes, mangosteen, passes by. On weekends the grocery truck, overflowing with brooms, buckets, dusters, does it rounds. It saves everybody a trip to Lotus and long, long hours in Bangkok's murderous traffic.

Thais are excellent salespeople. Beautiful salesladies line the counters of every department store. Their charm and elegance will sweep you off your feet. Their beauty is deceiving. Underneath the beauty lies a very cunning businesswoman. They are patient and they know how to drive a hard bargain. I mistook Thais' refusal to negotiate as a lack of negotiating skills. I had a few heated discussions with my students on this topic. For instance, a cop will pull you over and demand a thousand baht bribe. That means paying a thousand baht bribe or take a trip to the police station. And he (they are 99.9% male) refuses to negotiate one baht down. Because he's a bad negotiator? No! He knows you've got the money and you need to pay the bribe. There is no need for him to negotiate one baht down!

They are shrewd business people too. Prices are rarely displayed. The locals know the prices of most items -35 baht for a tuk-tuk ride home, 10 baht for a packet of freshly cut pineapple, 40 baht for a clay pot. Foreigners inevitably pay more than the locals. It depends on how much they think they can charge you. They believe foreigners are rich and can afford to pay more. Even if you have stayed here long enough to speak Thai, you will still be charged more. I never go back to a shop that I believe overcharged me. We are not the only ones to pay more. My wife, who is from the South, often pays more than me. I habitually ask the price before I order. When I visited Malaysia the Indians street vendors thought I was really cheap when I asked how much a cup of coffee was before I ordered.

Thais don't waste. Nothing is thrown away, nothing is wasted and nothing is free. In fact, the word free does not exist in Thai. It is borrowed from English. And the closest word to discount is raka peasyt, which literally translates into price special. Markups can be frightening low too. Beer is bought for 46 baht at a store and sold for 60 baht in a restaurant. It's cheaper to eat food in a restaurant than to cook at home. And it's not uncommon for a customer to bring his own whiskey into a restaurant and only to pay for the mix. No corkage fee is charged. It is also not uncommon to see a food cart stopping in front of a restaurant and the vendor selling fried snacks to the restaurant's customers!

Energy drinks are a real bargain, so is cola: 10 baht. Laundry, a plate of noodles and taxis are also cheap. While most things are cheap, nothing is free. In Thailand you pay for drinking water, you pay for education and you pay for entertainment. And once you've paid, don't expect to get a refund. Goods can be exchanged, but not refunded. Once the money is handed over, it is virtually impossible to get it back. Thais have a saying - what the elephant eat, it does not give back.

Not everything is cheap though. A recent trip to the hospital confirmed this. A consultation, sick letter and antibiotics cost me 2700 baht! That is two weeks wages for a factory worker. Private schooling is expensive too. And so is a mechanic - I paid 8000 baht for a 2000 baht service! The carburetor and starter-motor were also replaced. He even showed me the old parts. I'm sure those parts did not come from my car. And he told me he was honor, very honor (honest). An honest Thai! My-my.

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