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Beyond the Bottom Line

A former co-worker came to work very happy about the fact that they bought a bunch of fruits for basically nothing. She was very proud of her negotiation skills. They had no interest to know how important the person who sold the fruits might be in need of this money. The money they saved - or rather, 'stole' - had no impact whatsoever on their life except for the fact that she could gloat about it.

In western societies, we don’t go to the grocery store and begin arguing and negotiating how much we should pay. We just pay and go on about our day. This example comes to my mind often when I think about how openly affluent people make it a point to bargain for something as 'trivial' as fruit, but especially when it’s immigrants who are selling. There is this underlying racist and systemic belief that they must be ripping people off somehow. It always makes me uncomfortable when people starts to negotiate lower prices when you know that they would never do it in any other sitting or with different sellers.

Many people do this shamelessly in their western countries but only to certain type of vendors. One day, I spoke with a friend that had a wedding in her motherland in Africa and took the time to introduce her country's culture to her husband’s friends. One thing she said made me laugh. She said something along the line: « I left them handle the vendors when shopping for souvenirs. With their western money they can afford paying above the initial price. » It made me think of a Colonial tax. The same way we pay taxes based on our incomes, they should just pay what is asked. Why would my friend burden herself with negotiating prices on their behalf. If they wanted to do it, they should do it themselves. And needless to say, they were terrible at it. I like to think of it as for every affluent person ripping a person off somewhere, there’s another person overcharging their customers to keep the balance.

We can do the parallel with low skilled workers who are always being exploited and overworked. So for some people it is okay to pay someone a lot of money to sit in an office all day and send emails while underpaying someone who’s on their feet all day long, carrying heavy items and exerting their body. How can we continuously demand more and more from the same job categories over and over while valuing others who often lack the useful social and societal impact?

Next time you ask a small business owner, a freelance or a street vendor to bring the price down, just ask yourself:

👉 Why are you doing it? Do you see a pattern?

We all are biased in some manner so it is important to question why we do the thing we do. So maybe, you only feel comfortable women or minorities for a discount while you might not question a white man. The idea here is that women's labor was not a thing. To this day women are not compensated fairly for maintaining a home and doing most the raising of their offspring. Minorities in general have been assigned to low paying jobs. The dominant group feel entitled to their hard labour and it's almost as if it is their right to profit off of them. So when you buy a souvenirs abroad, a basket of fruit outside the the subway station or a product from a small business: do you feel entitled to ask for more because in your mind they are not worthy or deserving? Or are you genuinely happy to contribute to their livelihood? Do you think everyone is entitled to live a good life or do you it is a right only for the rich? Deconstructing your beliefs should not scare you. Do the work because on top of believing in human's right, I'll give a selfish reason: most of the population on earth is an incident away from homelessness and poverty. We have more chance to end up in the street or being fired than we have chance of becoming billionaires.

👉 Will it substantially change your life if you don’t pay the extra dollar?

If your situation is difficult to the point where one dollar makes a huge difference in your day to day. Be my guest! But if it does not dictate your next purchase or either you can eat or not, stop being a jerk.

👉 Have you seen it somewhere else cheaper? Maybe go there…

A lot of people love to say that they saw it cheaper somewhere else, well there you must go. This argument is supposed to pressure the seller to reconsider his pricing and bend to your demand. But the reality is that many do not care how expensive their latte or iced coffee is compared to other cafés. They have no problem paying 20 bucks for a smoothie but God forbid they pay a dollar instead of 50 cents for a handmade bracelet in Morocco.

👉 Based on your reasoning, why would you buy from someone whom you believe overcharges?

Honest people usually prefer to deal with honest folks. So why on earth would you spend your energy on someone who you believe is trying to con you. I saw a documentary with french people opening high end souvenirs shop in Morocco. They would go to the market and negotiate like their life depended on it to buy handmade craft. Once in their shop the prices skyrocketed to at least ten times the original price. So next time the people who look like you of feel the closest culturally don't have your best interest at heart. Don't judge a book by its cover, the conman is not always the one we think about.

👉 Do you feel powerful for making people bending to your demands? Why?

The burst of energy and satisfaction you feel after negotiating with a seller should be also analyzed. Is it the process itself, the back and forth? Or is it more insidious than that. Maybe you enjoy the illusion of power it grants you. Is it a colonial mindset? Is it the entitlement? Is it an incredible cheapness? I can come up with answers but i believe we all have different trajectories and experiences, so it is probably better to unpack that individually.

✨ Fatima ✨


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