My experiences dealing with Indian men in the tourism industry

Good bargaining skills are a necessity in Asian markets and it's definitely grown into a favorite pasttime for me. I love to wear down those unsuspecting merchants who think I didn't do my homework on pricing. Sometimes I don't win them over, but when I do, the victory is intoxicating. So I'm going to start this entry off with a story about the most memorable bargain I've gotten so far on this trip - something I thought I got for free.

I was in Jaipur and needed a new pair of white leggings to go with my purple dress. With so many shops galore and so many skeezy men calling me to come inside, there was really no way to make an informed pick. So the one I chose? One with a young guy standing in front who happened to wear interesting, thick rimmed glasses. His name was Ajit.

He didn't have white leggings but he had tan ones I was willing to buy. So we started the dance for the right price. He threw out the number: 400 Indian rupees (about $8 USD). I laughed. He clearly didn't have a very high opinion of me. 

"How much you willing to pay?" he asked to get my baseline. 

"30 rupees." This time he laughed. At 60 US cents, this was a ridiculous price, even for India.

But 30 rupees was really all I had in my purse so I couldn't go up. It's true, I walked to the market that day with only 60 US cents to my name.

"You are the poorest American I've ever met in my life," he told me during our conversation. Then he said if I came back the next day, he'd give me white leggings for free (he had to search for such inventory first because according to him, nobody in their right minds bought white leggings in a country as dusty as India). Awesome! I went back to the shop the next morning and claimed my prize.

At the Taj Mahal in my new outfit


I hung out with Ajit a few times after this during my stay in Jaipur. But in the course of our time together, I witnessed a transformation take place in his head I would have preferred not to see. Ultimately, he wanted something from me and it was already made clear I was not going to be a lucrative customer. So, logically, Ajit next tried to pressure me into sleeping with him and on these occasions he would enter into a childish begging mode. I found a little verbal slap on the cheek was usually enough to make him shut up but there were a few times when his fits were so intense, I just had to walk away. And just like a child, he'd always be a lot more cheerful the next day after his anger got a chance to burn itself out.

Still, I was shocked at how forward Ajit was in his pleas for sex. He would never dream of approaching an Indian girl like this. It was clear he had a completely different perspective on where a Western woman's boundaries lied. According to my friend in Delhi, many Indian men are first exposed to Western women through porn movies and this extremely skewed representation ends up coloring their real-life interactions with tourist girls. I can see how this statement is likely true. In fact, I suspect this is true for most men throughout all of Asia and yet it's only in India that I seemed to get propositioned so frequently by people I was not at all familiar with. There is something that feels outwardly repressed and sublimely perverse in these interactions.

Ofcourse, my experiences hanging out with him weren't all bad. Every once in a while, Ajit would do incredibly nice things that left me marveling at the beauty of human nature. It's just that his sweet little heart was oftentimes covered in a thick sludge of self-interested malice. At the very least, I can say I was intrigued by the interaction unfolding.

And then there's the somewhat far-fetched dream Ajit had of finding a tourist girl who will fall madly in love with him and end up marrying him. This is apparently a common dream among the men of the tourism industry.

A rickshaw driver once told me his own guru - the man who taught him everything he knows about the rickshaw driving business - married an American girl he once gave a ride to. The guy's now living the dream somewhere in Oregon and is the envy of all his friends back in India. It's just your typical Cinderella story starring Fat Indian Guy with Burly Black Moustache as Cinderella.

Overall, I think my experience hanging out with Ajit was a good lesson for me on how to better deal with those aggressive Indian men in tourism. Yes, this is a generalization and individuals are always different. But to stay safe, one has to approach every new interaction with some amount of skepticism and it is definitely possible to draw patterns. My advice to any woman travelling to India would be to stay positive when interacting with the local men but keep a safe distance with your words and always always walk away at the point things become a waste of your time. Banter is always fun. After all, you're on vacation and there's no other customer in the store right now. Just remember these guys aren't talking to you for free.


And for any bargain hunters out there, I want to leave some tips I've learned along the way about how to get the best prices and avoid the scams in India.

  • Indian merchants can be very stubborn when dealing with a tourist. And yeah, I know you've had a few turns through SouthEast Asia and you think you know everything about how to haggle with merchants. But India's not like the more Eastern regions and a sale is not just driven by economy, there's pride involved as well. Because giving you the local's price would literally lead to a piece of them dying inside. The only ways I've found to get around this are to (1) accept the higher price (2) walk away and try again... for the fifth goddamn time or (3) spend the time to actually build a friendly relationship with the seller and drink that chai. Welcome to bargaining in Middle Eastern influenced countries!
  • In India, you'll find many privately owned tourism offices with signs on the front saying things like "Government Tourist Information Booth". I'm not kidding about this... These guys bribed the police and government officials to let them keep the sign up as it's a good way to gain the tourists' trust. You'll know you've walked into one of these kinds of offices if they first offer you a free map of the city and then shift to selling you packages. Ask them whatever questions you want answered and get the hell out of there.
  • A common way hotels will try to squeeze more money out of you is by telling you their cheap rooms (usually the dorm rooms) are coincidentally all booked up but they have one room available for such-and-such rupees more. It's possible this may be true but there have been times when I knew they were lying. My personal reaction to this situation would be to call bullshit, walk out, and start looking for other hotels in the neighborhood. Of all the kinds of liars looking to exploit tourists in India, this is the one I can't stand the most and I refuse to do business with a person like this. If you can imagine a lone Asian girl angrily hoofing over dirt roads with her dusty gear dragging along behind her, you will know what the majority of my life has been like in India.

    If you're lucky enough to be dealing with a hotel with an online presence, it's better to book the room you want through agoda, hostelworld, or hostelbookers than to ask for the room price in person. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but trust me. The price only goes up when they see your foreigner face. Book online and the staff will be forced to honor the reservation at the cheaper price.

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