Monday, October 26, 2009

Back to reality

Not even one month here in Delhi. I must probably be still in my ‘romantic’ phase: everything is new, everything is interesting, everything is exciting, everything has to be discovered... So, I have to confess, I am a bit surprised when, discussing with people that have been here for quite a while, I notice tired expressions and catch sentences such as: “Certainly Delhi is not easy”, “Indians are rough and rude”, “Can’t wait to leave”, and so on...

However, I didn’t have to wait too much to have my first experience of how rude and unpleasant Indians can be. First day in my new neighbourhood, Defence Colony, and first day of grocery shopping: Saturday morning I went to the local market. Just to set the stage, the market of Defence Colony is characterized by a multitude of small shops that sell more or less the same things, from food to toiletries, etc.: the classic ‘Pakistani shop’ that you find open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every corner in London.

“Wow” I thought among myself, vaguely recollecting of my classes of microeconomics at university, “this is the perfect example of perfect competition: an infinite number of sellers offering the same goods. The market price should equal the marginal cost!” (That is to say, in other words, that the price should be the lowest possible, as if one seller set a higher price, buyers would go to another seller, and the first seller would soon be out of business).

But how to be sure that the economic theory works in reality? “Well - I said to myself - I am going to ask the price of the same goods in each shop, and if the theory is correct, the price should be the same everywhere. If the theory fails, well, I’ll do my grocery in the shop that gives me the best price...”

And so I entered the first shop, and I started asking how much was this, how much was that, etc. At the third or fourth question, the owner of the shop, a fat and greasy Indian, came to me and asked me:

- Are you just asking prices, or are you buying?
- Well - I answered - I ask prices, and if the prices are good I am going to buy
- You are wasting my time, get out of my shop and go to ‘ask prices’ somewhere else

Which, in fact, is what I did.

Well, beside all the considerations on the fact that - in theory - the customer should always be right, on the fact that - of course - I will never go back to that shop to do my grocery (but, sadly, this won't be enough to push that shop out of business), or on the fact that - once more - economic theory proved never to work in the real world, this episode in a way sanctioned the end of my ‘honeymoon’ with India. Of course I knew that my image of India in these first weeks was a bit naïf and influenced by my positive mood. And of course I knew that the reality had to be different. However, used to the (sometime excessive) African politeness, I was somehow hurt by this behaviour.

However, if I want to see the positive side of this episode, I can say that this incident helped me to enter a bit more into ‘India’. It reminded me, for instance, that India is not Africa (as sometimes, for a strange mental process, I tend to believe), that Indians are not Italians (as perhaps I wish they were), and that living in a different country and discovering a new culture is enriching, exciting, but also tough...


  1. Quando sarai abbastanza ricco da potertelo permettere, puoi sempre comprare il suo negozio e cacciarlo via con un bel calcio nel didietro...
    Oppure passare davanti al suo negozio, tirare fuori un gonfio portafoglio e ad alta voce sentenziare qualcosa del tipo "no, qui no, vendono merce scadente" ed entrare nel negozio accanto...
    Oppure, da bravo italiano ferito nell'onore, fargli trovare una testa di cavallo mozzata dentro casa...

  2. mi piace l'idea della testa di cavallo mozzata nel letto...

  3. btw, anonymous, grazie per tener vivo il blog. mi puoi dare qualche indizio per capire chi sei?

  4. ps: mi piace l'idea della testa di cavallo mozzata, ma qua siamo nella patria di gandhi... dovro' fare resistenza non violenta

  5. Giusto; resistenza non violenta!
    Potresti provare a non comprare, così fai dispetto ai cattivi negozianti.
    Oppure entrare e comprare un maccherone,uno spaghetto, un frutto, una verdura alla volta e fargli perdere (utilmente) tempo.
    Ma i negozi, non hanno esposti i prezzi delle merci che vendono? Prova a spiare qual'è (o quali sono) i negozi più frequentati (i locali dovrebbero sapere quale negozio è il più conveniente) e poi regolati di conseguenza.
    Dopo di che, vai dal più simpatico; almeno, se ti frega, esci comunque contento. Ciao!

  6. Giusto, il surplus di prezzo che pagherai sarà dovuto non già ad una migliore qualità del prodotto, bensì ad una migliore cortesia nel servizio...
    In fondo il bello dello shopping non è dato dall'oggetto che si riceve in cambio di una certa quantità di denaro bensì dalla soddisfazione che si prova nel pagare il giusto prezzo per qualcosa che desideriamo, e nel pagare qualcuno che ci fa sentire orgogliosi e soddisfatti di aver scelto proprio quel qualcosa!

  7. Oh Matteo, you poor thing! Yes, shopkeepers can be notoriously rude! But you see, the economics worked beautifully. The micro theory you were talking about works only on the assuption of perfect iformation! And in this case, the shopkeeper grasped that very well, if he were to give you the prices and let you go then you would 'shop' around for the best price. Also, he is probably working from different assumptions - why do you want to know the prices? What would you do with it? And if you want the 'good', in his way of thinking you would just buy it or bargain. Anyway, not to justify your behavior but my economist side could not help but come out. To encounter less salesman like characteristics, you should go to a Govt shop where there are no incentives for selling and they are least interested in doing so!