Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The old and the new countries hate round numbers!

When I was a kid, which seems like a gazillion years ago, we didn't go shopping any and every day, but bought clothes only for specific occasions--birthdays, Diwali, weddings, and, yes, for the re-integration into everyday life after a death in the family.  Oh, yeah, also ahead of the new school year.  Those were the days of frugal living, highly constrained by the limited household budget.

In the old traditions that were practiced at home, the new stuff was typically placed in the "puja room" for the divine blessings.  I recall that as a kid, I once placed the new shoes from Bata in the puja room for the gods to bless the footwear, and was told that new shoes were not allowed in the holy space.

What a contrast to the contemporary life in which shopping makes every day seem like a birthday, a Diwali, a wedding, and newness does not have the appeal that it had back then.  Heck, we don't even have to go to a store to buy anything that we might want to buy any given moment.  We complete the purchases via mouse-clicks at home.

Buying shoes and "chappals" at Bata always triggered conversations about the pricing there: prices like 19.99 rupees or 24.99 rupees.  Like everybody else, we made fun of that pricing.

It was not until I went to the US did I realize that this strange pricing approach was not that unusual.  Of all, gas prices were the most hysterically funny with numbers that went into the third decimal for which there wasn't even a coin!  Extreme versions of the Bata pricing.

And then through the graduate school dabbling in economics and chatting with serious econ students did I understand that this mania even had a name of its own.  It is a strange world in which we live!

Now, I find it to be a relief when, for instance, a restaurant lists the menu items with round-number prices and without any decimal.  To heck with psychological pricing.  I feel sorry for the gullible customers who are tempted to buy something at $24.99 but who would walk away if it were listed at $25!

It is not merely the capitalist marketing technique that has such craziness.  I am willing to bet that every traditional culture has its own idiosyncrasy.  The old country has its own tradition that donations and gifts should not be round numbers but should end with "1."  Thus, a thousand rupee donation is not good and, therefore, the donation will be 1,001 rupees.

The other day, when I was in a certain part of the city, I remembered reading about a kiosk where they sold tshirts with Tamil phrases.  I went looking and located it.  The shirts were not anywhere as impressive as the ones that I bought a couple of years ago.  But, hey, at least this much for this American whose heart always has a very special place for Tamil.

"How much?" I asked the young woman as I handed her the two shirts.

"Thousand two, sir" she replied.

I gave her 1,200 rupees.

"No sir. Not two hundred.  Only two."

"You mean one thousand and two?" I was surprised.

"Yes, sir.  Like the old Tamil culture, a tshirt is 501 rupees.  No round number."

I fumbled around for two rupees.  I gave her a ten and collected the change.

I can wear the tshirt at any time, without placing it in the puja room ;)


Ramesh said...

Yeah - the pricing is crazy. Retailers must think consumers to be complete idiots . One of the by products of this nonsense was that whenever I traveled to other countries, I always landed up with a fistful of pennies and pence which I had no use for and couldn't be changed back to rupees.

I didn't know about that tee kadai. I must really look it up next time I am in Madras.

Sriram Khé said...

Not only pennies but also the fives and tens ... the other day, here, I grabbed a few coins along with the rupees before I walked to the store ... when I paid, she said none of those coins was Indian!

The "Tee Kadai" products will make for a different gift ... as I noted in my post, the Tamil tshirts I bought three years ago were awesome.

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