TOURISTS love to buy souvenirs and presents for their friends
and family back home. In Japan they buy kimonos, in France perfume
and in Myanmar handicrafts and jewels. As tourism to Myanmar increases,
so too does the trade in souvenirs.
“Tourists are interested in Myanmar art, particularly
images of the Buddha or monks,” said artist U Myint Soe,
who has been a painter for 30 years. Before he opened his art
shop at the Hotel Nikko, he had exhibitions in many art galleries
and he says that it is the wealthy tourists who are most interested
in art as they can afford to buy it.
“There are two reasons why tourists like local paintings.
One is that they are of a high standard and the second that they
are inexpensive compared to what they might cost in other countries.”
U Myint Soe said that until a few years ago he had never heard
of bargaining over the price of a painting, but now tourists expect
“It seems that tourists expect to bargain over the price
because they have been told that this is the practice everywhere
in Asia, including Myanmar. So even though we are astonished by
such behaviour we must go along with it,” he said.
Daw Khun Shwe, at the Ethonographic Textile Gallery, agreed.
When she started her shop 10 years ago tourists did not expect
to haggle over the price.
“But now everyone does it,” she said.
“I think it began when people started printing guide books
to Myanmar in other countries and instructed people to bargain
Daw Khun Shwe sells Kachin, Karen, Chin, Naga and Akha clothing
and jewellery at the Bogyoke market.
“Naga tribal wear is the most popular, probably because
it is the best known, particularly in India. Western tourists,
the French, Americans and British are mainly interested in antique
clothing and jewellery. A lot of Japanese visit my shop and they
like anything which is colourful,” she said.
“Many tourists are keen on the rare bead necklaces and
belts because they are so unusual. They value such things in the
same way as we value jewels and diamonds.”
Both the shop owners have had bad experiences with customers.
U Myint Soe said, “A few days ago, a customer visited
my gallery. He liked one of my paintings and and asked me my lowest
price. I told him. But he didn’t believe me and tried to
give me less. He said he came from India and had no more money
left. I had told him the lowest price and I couldn’t change
it. He kept on asking me and asking me. At last he wore me down
and I gave him another $20 off. But still he wouldn’t pay
the price. In the end he gave me his card and he wasn’t
from India at all, but America. He thought it would be more expensive
if I knew he was American.”
Daw Khun Shwe tries to keep her temper when customers are rude.
She said, “When I get customers who demand I lower my price
I try not to get angry and keep in mind that ‘the customer
is always right’ in the Japanese way. Worse still, sometimes
when a customer buys something they ask me for an expensive tiny
item from the shop as a present for buying. And sometimes, even
though I say no, they take it anyway.
“I think maybe the trouble is that I don’t speak
Japanese and they don’t speak English so we can’t
communicate except with body language. So now I’m learning
basic Japanese and maybe this will solve the problems,”
Most shop owners agree that they would prefer to have all the
items labeled with a price which was fixed so there was no need
to bargain, but they agree that the tourists won’t accept
it because they like the experience of bargaining.
U Myint Soe also said, “I can’t do it because my
customers are afraid my prices might be more expensive because
I am in a hotel. It isn’t the case, but they feel better
if they bargain.”
Ma Pont Pont who works as a salesgirl at a souvenir shop selling
jade, silver, jewellery, lacquerware, handmade fabric, and tribal
and traditional wear, speaks Japanese.
“I’m responsible for dealing with Japanese customers
as I speak the language,” she said. “Mostly we try
not to bargain, and we find that Japanese do not insist. If they
like an item and they can afford it, they just buy it. So sometimes
we give a discount.”
Perhaps that is the answer. If shopkeepers can speak to their
customers in their own language, the problems with bargaining
over the prices might be solved.