1,000 Sri Lankan Rupees
1,000 Sri Lankan Rupees

White Skin? You Pay the Foreigner Price!

Our book warned us but nothing could have prepared us for the great disparity between the local price and the foreigner price.

Hair cutting for foreigners
A barber for foreigners. Do you think the prices there are fair?

Carrie and I have traveled a lot in this world and have become used to, if not accepting, of attempts to rip us off. Sure, they are frustrating and sometimes leave me fuming, but the occasional double charge is a reality of life. However, in Sri Lanka it is more egregious than anywhere I have ever been.

While I understand that even living the shoestring lifestyle we have more money than many people we encounter ever will, I still maintain that we deserve the same treatment. The craziest example of this was when we arrived at an Internet café in Galle. We knew from the past few weeks that the price should be 50 rupees per hour, but since it had air conditioning we figured it might be a little more. Unfortunately, when I asked the price I had my camera around my neck and, after staring at it for a solid five seconds, the man said four rupees per minute: 240 rupees for an hour.

This caught both Carrie and I by surprise and after telling him that we knew that the price should be 50, we asked a local using a computer what he was paying. He replied 50. The café owner said yes, but our price was 240. At this point another local in the shop chimed in and said that 50 was the local price and we had to pay the tourist price. Flabbergasted I asked him how he thought this was fair, to which he replied, because that’s the way it is. I told him he was a racist and stormed out to the café next door that charged 50, but had no AC.

Vases for sale in Sri Lanka
Vases for sale in Sri Lanka

Another example was buying bottled water as we went. First off, mineral water is clearly a tourist product to begin with, as the locals are all acclimated to the tap. Still, prices are pretty fixed and the MSRP is even written right on the bottle. This means nothing, however, as shop keepers still took one look at us and made up whatever price they wanted. Sometimes they justified a nearly 50% increase over MSRP by saying it was a “cool charge” for keeping it in the fridge. Other times they just shrugged and repeated their obnoxious price. When desperate, we paid. Usually we walked out and looked elsewhere.

Don’t even get me started on how tuk tuk and taxi drivers try to rip you off.

Also don’t get me started on how we have to pay hundreds of rupees to enter temples, monuments and the botanical gardens while locals only have to pay 10 or 20.

Our hotel in Kandy required taking a bus from downtown and the price was always different. We paid 6, 8, 9 and 10 rupees on separate occasions for the exact same trip.

Despite the fact that I know it does no good and is always met with a blank stare, I still try to explain to the folks ripping us off how they can’t do that and how it’s not right. Maybe one day I’ll stop trying, because it usually just fires me up more and they will just do the same thing to the next person.