Today my head teacher was complaining about a negative experience he had at one of the many indian-owned supermarkets in Uganda, and it opened my eyes to one of the biggest cultural differences between Uganda, and the West.
My head teacher Ecokit (pronounced e-CHO-ket) went into the supermarket with only 1,000 shillings – the smallest bill in Uganda — hoping to buy a bottle of water. Unlike Ugandan-owned shops, Indian supermarkets almost always have set prices that are slightly above the prices you could get by bargaining. Ecokit and the supermarket owner got in a heated fight because the owner wanted him to pay the set price of 2,000 shillings for the water bottle and Ecokit wanted the owner to see that he did not have enough money and reduce the price by a mere 1,000 shillings so that they could still do business. My head teacher told me that Indians can be immoral people because they are never willing to reduce their prices when they see that people are poor. I on the other hand, thought that Ugandan vendors could be far more immoral based on my experience with every single Ugandan who gauged the prices of their goods as soon as they saw that I was white. I much preferred shopping at Indian supermarkets because they were the only place where I knew the price I paid had nothing to do with the seller’s perception of me. In my opinion, the only determinant of price should be what the market will bear.
Ecokit and my different perceptions of “fairness” in business transactions reflect the two different worlds we come from — one where almost everyone lacks the resources to sustain themselves and must rely on the community members they interact with in everyday life, and a much wealthier one where people value things like individualism and property rights.