Is it “Immoral” to Price-Gouge Gringos?


Ovalo De Miraflores During the Corso de Wong
The other day I wrote an article about Miraflores fruit vendors, and Owen left an interesting comment (see the article to read the original). He detailed how he was pleased to buy a kilo of cherries for S/. 20, only to find out his Peruvian friend got the same kilo of cherries for S/. 15. When they confronted the seller, the person (I don’t believe Owen mentioned the seller’s gender) said the reason was because Owen “was a gringo.”
This is the kind of thing that you’re going to have happen to you in Peru, but I’m not sure whether or not it’s the type of thing that you should get all bent out of shape over. Although, having said that, I’m not immune to it either.
I remember I used to take a combi from La Molina to Miraflores every day. The price of the combi was always S/. 1, but one day I got on and when I told the guy where I was going he wanted to charge me S/. 1.2! I flipped out and refused to pay, which got me booted from the bus about 10 blocks away from where I needed to go. Of course, I ended up paying about S/. 5 instead of the S/. 0.2 to get to my eventual destination…but at least that guy didn’t get the cash (at least that was my thinking).
It’s amazing how angry I got at this discrepancy. I felt as if I was being singled out for being white and it made me furious! However, it was literally over a matter of cents. In the case of Owen’s anecdote, the money is about $2.
Ironically, this kind of price gouging also goes on with things like LAN airlines, but it’s rare that you see tourists get all worked up over that. It’s long been the case that there’s an airfare for “Peruvian residents” which is about half the price of the airfare for “non-residents.” This is just a polite way of saying it’s a “gringo tax.” For a while, I refused to fly LAN in Peru because of that, but they really do have the best service so I’ve more or less switched back. However, I think it’s strange that people are far less likely to flip out about paying an extra $100 to LAN than they are about paying an extra S/. 5 to an impoverished street vendor. Maybe it’s just that people have been conditioned not to fight against corporations, but their frustration builds up and they just EXPLODE when a helpless individual tries to mess with them.
A lot of times, those street vendors have pretty miserable lives. You’d assume that they were the owners of the carts they run, but often that’s not the case. I was talking to the little old lady that used to work outside my building and she told me how she had to make a quota every day–of course, it might have all been some sob story to get me to pay more, but we were only talking about a couple Soles here. My guess is that if they can squeeze an extra dime out of you, it makes a huge difference to their lives (much more than the extra $100 LAN sticks you with for being a gringo does for the rich executive who eventually gets it).
The times it annoys me, though, are when you see the vendor calculate and make a wild guess as to how much they can get out of you.
“How much is a water?”
“Uhhh….S. 1.5.”
“Everywhere else it’s S/. 1.”
Shrug.
They’ll actually forego the sale to price gouge, which is weird.
I don’t know, you can find some savings by cutting out a coupon for Pizza night (you can get your pizza for half price then) and then pass it on by spending a few extra Soles on the fruit vendors and bus drivers who gouge you. I guess the philosophy to take is to worry about the guys who are stealing $100 or $1000 from you before you flip out over the ones who steal $0.25 (and I say that admonishing myself as well because I know I’ve flipped out over essentially stupid things on many occasions).
It’s interesting to see how well programmed we are to take BS, and how the frustration over this programming boils over sometimes.
If you would like a larger file of the above image for a print or use in a  publication, just send $10 to my paypal account at stsoflima@gmail.com, and mention the title and date of the post where the image appeared. Be sure to include an email I can contact you with for questions.

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