“When in Rome” Don’t be a Kano with your Cash

Here’s a bit of a tip that it’s taken me 7 or 8 trips to the Philippines to start to understand.

A few weeks ago we’re in Camiguin at Ardent Hot Springs. BTW, the Ardent pools are very nicely done and the cost of entry is cheap. The water is not hot – it’s bathtub warm, but do you really want 110 degree water during the summer in the Philippines?

So I am lazing in the hotspring and struck up a conversation with an Aussie of my age and his Filipina partner. Not sure if they were married or not and not sure that it matters.

Anyway, the conversation was about cash, retirement and cost differences between the Philippines and our home countries. His partner chimed in that the biggest mistake that “foreigners” make was that we too often “convert” to our own currency.

My first thought was to disagree. I am very good at math and grew up in an era where I actually learned to multiply and divide in my head without electronic assistance. Therefore, whenever I travel internationally I always quickly determine costs based on the almighty US Dollar.

But my new friend disagreed, stating that you must consider costs in pesos not dollars. I remembered a story I have told before about how Janet and I once argued about an overcharged taxi fare in Dumaguete and how I resolved that argument by saying, “Do you realize we are arguing about a fare that cost us $6.”

But now I have come to see the woman’s point and agree with it. If something normally costs 100 pesos you should not pay 300 pesos, despite the fact that from a USD standpoint the difference is tiny.

In other words, stop being a tourist and act like a Filipino, particularly if you want Filipinos not to treat you like a rich tourist.

Tips are a good place to start. I am old enough to recall a time in the US when tips at restaurants were based on good service, not on a set percentage of 15 or 20%. It is still that way in the Philippines. While I won’t tell you, dear reader, what kind of tip to give, I give a Philippines-appropriate tip.

Janet is particularly pointed in this regard. If the service is good she wants to make sure I gave the person a few pesos. If the service is poor she will ask me afterwards, “Did you give her a tip?” If my answer is yes, I get “the look!”

Many goods and services are negotiable in the Philippines. Hell, it’s almost insulting if you don’t negotiate. I usually throw out some kind of stupid line like “Is that your best price?” The price usually goes down without much argument. Do not feel that because the price is less than you would pay in your home country, that you are taking advantage of anyone. You are not! On the contrary, you are supporting them.

For example, like most old farts I like a massage once in a while. But I am too damn cheap to pay $60 – 100 for a massage in my home city. But it’s one of the things I look forward to in the Philippines, where even in a tourist trap like Boracay, a massage is $10 or less. Oops there I go again. Massages in Boracay are typically 350-500 pesos.

The first night we were in Boracay, I walked the boardwalk area and looked at massage prices. In general, the massage places on the beach are cheaper than the ones in spas by about 100 pesos. The next day I returned. As I say, since I am basically cheap, I was going to have one of the beach massages. But Janet and I passed a spa that looked very nice. I looked at the menu of prices. Massage – 550 pesos. I frowned and that’s all it took. The woman in charge noticed  my reaction and immediate said, “discount for you, sir. 400 pesos.” Sold! I asked whether they also did nails, since Janet wanted her nails done. Yes, I was told. “What’s your best price?” I asked. The price was magically reduced. Janet and I were led to a very pleasant room where we both lay on adjacent beds. I received a massage and Janet had her nails done. I spent an hour moaning while Janet laughed at me and spoke Visayan to the girl doing her nails. It was very pleasant, particularly since we paid an appropriate amount. The service was excellent and we tipped the women accordingly.

This concept of not converting currencies is not just applicable to inexpensive service items, like taxis or massages. It applies to everything. The housing market in my home town is pretty hot again. My buddy just bought a place and proudly announced that he’d gotten it by paying 15k more than the asking price. It’s great for him and his family, so don’t get me wrong.

OTOH, don’t do this in the Philippines, where the asking price for real estate is often an opening offer, no more valid than the 550 pesos that massage was supposed to cost.

Last year while we were in Alcoy, we stumbled across a very nice house for sale. The owner invited us in. Why not? We got the nickel tour and the place was in fact very nice. Out of politeness and curiosity I asked “how much?” “Six and 1/2 million pesos – firm,” I was told. “What about for cash?” I asked. “Oh for cash – six million.” Firm is apparently a fluid concept in the Philippines.

We left the house and I mistakenly gave the woman my local number. She assumed I was a real buyer and I got texts from her daily. It became annoying. Finally Janet laughed and said, “Just offer her 5 million.” I texted her back, “Sorry, but my wife says our budget is only 5 million.” I figured that would shut the woman up. Wrong! In less than five minutes I got a response, “We will accept 5 million, sir.”

So, think in pesos not dollars and remember, the price ain’t the price, and firm rarely is.

But also remember – that 5 million peso house sounds like a great deal, but only if the woman actually owns the house – another problem to consider in the Philippines.

4 thoughts on ““When in Rome” Don’t be a Kano with your Cash”

  1. Almost everything in Life is negotiable without realizing it .

    It’s a smart & best way to help people in their business and of course to help ourselves maximizing our resources.

    1. That’s about what happened our last day when I bought Janet a fake LV bag. The opening special price was 4500 pesos which quickly became 2000 pesos.

      BTW, regarding the massage “discount” I received due to my superior negotiating skills. An hour after our service we walked by the place again. The same woman (who clearly didn’t recognize us) yelled out, “massage sir – 400 pesos for you.” So it’s possible I wasn’t a master negotiator 🙂

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