Hoi An, Vietnam. Home of custom, tailor-made clothes. Blogs rave about it. Visitors flock to the destination with magazine clippings of their dream outfit, hoping to have it made to their specifications and chosen fabric. We had this same hope, though we weren’t as fastidious to know exactly what we wanted to have made. A suit for David, probably black. He doesn’t own one, and doesn’t everyone need a black suit? I had no clue what I wanted. My wardrobe at home is cluttered with many a dress I’ve bought for a tidy sum but never worn.
We had a total budget in mind and headed into town on our first day in search of a good tailor. We’d received a recommendation from our guesthouse, but even then you have no idea whether the guesthouse receives a kickback when you purchase – we know that they do for tours and train tickets. Within five minutes of walking into town we were stopped by a woman in a puffy pink jacket (it was 20C and she was cold) with a motorcycle helmet. “Hello! Where you from?” Oh no. We knew this line. Nine times out of ten it leads not to polite conversation, but to a sales pitch. Shit.
“Canada.” Short, to the the point. Keep walking.
Except… you can’t keep walking when they keep talking to you. Rather, you can, but you might feel like a complete jerk if you do. She continued to talk, asking us questions then finally cut to the chase. “You buy clothes in Hoi An?”
“Maybe,” we responded.
“I give you good price.” She smiled a mega-watt smile, rambling off the address of her shop and the names of the four girls who worked there… as though there was a chance in hell I was remembering it. “You go big shop. They suits cost $200. We do good suit. $60!”
$60? For a good suit? I’ve only been in Southeast Asia a short time, but it’s a universal truth that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
We finally rid ourselves of the well-meaning saleswoman only to walk around the corner and be approached by another woman on a bicycle. She saw us from across the street, did a quick U-turn (in traffic!) and cycled alongside us going the wrong way against the flow of motorbikes.
What we discovered about Hoi An was that this pushy sales tactic is not solely relegated to clothes. Fruit? Water? Floating lanterns? Lighters? Culturally inappropriate t-shirts? All of them came with in your face or aggressive sales tactics. My favourite was when people would just say “You buy something,” at their stall. Note, it’s not a question, it’s a statement. You answer with a polite, “No, thank you.” You’re met with salty looks. I was once close to buying a fake Mulberry purse (sorry, Mulberry). The woman quoted me 150,000 Vietnamese Dong ($7-8). It really was a bargain, but as quickly as I talked myself into it, I talked myself out, knowing I would resent the purse the next time I tried to pack my full-to-bursting backpack. “Maybe later,” I said, stepping away. “You buy now,” the woman responded. I declined, repeating that I might come back later. I’m known for a weak shopping resolve. “You come back later and I charge you 500,000.
Wait a second. Increasing the price if I didn’t buy now? You just guaranteed that I’m not buying from you.
At the end of the day, we decided that we just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. Yes, it would have been great for David to have a suit and I loved many of the dress designs I saw along the streets, but I had a niggling feeling. It was the gut feeling that no matter what price we got for our clothes, I’d always wonder if I’d been somewhat ripped off, like I’d been swindled somehow, some way. In reality, most people leave with amazing clothes, but the buy-or-bugger-off approach had soured the whole experience for me.
Besides, who wants to lug around a two-piece suit through Southeast Asia?
Have you ever experienced pushy sales tactics either at home or while traveling? Has it made you reconsider something you were looking forward to?