Advice that I ignored

“Take as much toilet paper as you can pack.” For three months? No way. I decided that if a billion people can use water, then so can I.

“Take three different adaptor plugs to charge your phone, because India has an assortment of wall receptacles.” A Vancouver travel shop employee dismissed Wikipedia and took umbrage at my hesitation to buy a handful of adaptors. Instead, I went across town to an international electronics shop and bought the adaptor that one of the staff, who happened to come from India, recommended. It turned out that I was okay with that solitary two-pin adaptor.

“Don’t eat food from street vendors.” This was Kerala. I watched and thought about it. I went to vendors who had steady clientele. I ate freshly cooked food. The plantain chips were heavenly. The dosas, deep-fried chilis, tea, and other meals that I ate were superb. The freshly squeezed pineapple juice, almost a daily treat, was always a delight. I don’t think that I had any problems from the street food that I ate. I occasionally had an upset stomach, but I fairly confidently traced that to other sources. Having said that, I did take a course of Dukoral before my trip.

“Haggle.” I couldn’t be bothered. Once I got a feel for prices, I got the impression that the local inns and restaurants were charging reasonable prices. I saw no point in trying to shave off a couple of rupees. Vendors occasionally offered a discount as a courtesy, and I was grateful for it. Packaged goods by law have the Maximum Retail Price printed on them at the factory. This sets a firm upper limit on what shops may charge. Some shops charge less.

Let this be my general statement: In Kerala I got the impression that people were doing business honestly with me. I want to say this because Westerners receive urgent appeals to be on guard. It is prudent to be careful, but you’re also careful at home, aren’t you?

The main exception to my no-haggle tendency was autorickshaws, and I used them as little as possible. Their prices fluctuated wildly, and haggling was de rigeur. But even that had an exception: on one occasion late at night in New Delhi, an autorickshaw driver quoted a fair price of his own choosing, drove me to where I wanted to go, and offered at no cost, and he was quite firm about not accepting extra money, to take me a few metres closer to my destination.

The occasions where haggling would have paid off were luxury expenditures, such as renting a houseboat, taking a private tour, and buying high end souvenirs. These were things that I was not buying anyway.

Oh, yes. And I haggled when I bought a fake beard at the entrance to the Red Fort. Monty Python fans will understand. And yet I still feel pangs of remorse when I recall the bitter look that the vendor displayed when he agreed to the sale. Was it really worth bargaining down the price? I have no idea whether that man’s frown was part of the drama of haggling.

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