19.07.2007 -17 °C
You’ve just arrived in India, a little hungry. You find a samosa-dealing street vendor, who tells you the price: 30c (Australian). Bah. You give him 60c and tell him to keep the change. What’s 30 cents going to do to you?
Ben Groundwater, a blogger for the Sydney Morning Herald’s online travel section, related this experience on his blog. It’s not, in itself, a particularly notable story.
The response he received from other backpackers, however, was something else.
While many didn’t have a problem with him tipping the street vendor 100%, there were a vocal minority who found his actions problematic - to say the least. By tipping the vendor, they said, Ben was encouraging the vendor to charge a higher rate to tourists.
One person said it gave Indians the impression that Westerners are “walking banks”.
Now I’m not trying to be boastful, but I think that the label of “walking bank” is quite fitting when you consider my wealth with the earnings of the average Indian street vendor. And I dare say that said vendor is well aware of this, whether I leave him a 30c tip or not.
Perhaps the most common argument used to ridicule Ben’s extravagant tipping was the fact that he was already being “ripped off”. At 30 cents for a samosa, Ben was being charged 5 times what he should have been, according to one commenter. To then tip an extra 30 cents meant that he was rewarding the vendor’s dishonesty.
All this talk of getting ripped off 30 cents by an Indian street vendor makes me feel decidedly uncomfortable. As someone with a comfortable economic existence in a First World country, I know perfectly well that 30 cents isn’t going to cause me any budgetary headaches.
What I find really perverse is the historical incongruity. How much of the wealth of what we call the “First World” comes from our forefathers exploiting people in the Third World? And don’t tell me it’s the past. Our society perpetuates this state of affairs. How many of the clothes I wear were made in sweatshops? How much of the food I consume daily is imported from a Third World country where those who laboured to produce it were paid a mere pittance?
Getting over-charged for being a Western tourist? I’d call that social justice.
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