Cultural Differences – giving a price for your labor

“How much do I owe you for the repairs?” I asked the shoe repairman who has just hand sewn the bottom of the sole back onto my every-day shoes. “Oh, I can’t give you a price. You give me whatever you want,” he replied. “No,” I responded, “what is the cost for the repairs?” Again, he says, “You give me whatever you think is right.” “But everything has a price,” I continued, “and your labor is no different. If you repair Bofio’s (the Smiths’ cook Bofio was sitting next to him) shoes, when you are done you give him a price for the repairs don’t you?” “Yes.” “Well, why can’t you give me a price?” I insisted.

At this point in our “conversation” Bofio joined in and explained again what I wanted and asked him to give me a price. He could tell that I was starting to get frustrated with the repairman’s refusal to tell me what I owed him for his labor. Finally the repairman relented and told me $3.00 which I was glad to pay even including a tip.

Later in the day I was visiting a Congolese friend and asked him why the repairman, and others too for I’ve had this happen before, refused to name the price of their labor when I had hired them to do something. My friend’s first response was that this is a trap they are setting for me. Their hope in not naming a price is that I’ll be forced to give them a higher price for their labor than they could normally get. So they’re hoping to profit, to make more money from me. Another friend there explained that in addition, some people don’t want to give a price to a pastor or the missionary because they think it dishonors the pastor if they give a price. I understand the first argument, but not really the second.

When I explained this to Cindy she asked if I had discussed the price for the repair beforehand. No, I hadn’t. “Well,” she replied, ”You should have and doing so may have avoided this frustrating conversation.”

Cultural differences. In my culture the price for labor for the repair, for whatever is being repaired, is clear and often posted. It is discussed up front and we decide whether we accept the price or not. We are never left at the end with “you give me whatever you think is appropriate.” Here however, it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve had people refuse to give me a price before they did the job, insisting that we will discuss this afterwards. This negotiation is not easy for me, someone who likes things to be clear and upfront, who wants to pay a fair price for the work done. Yes, I sometimes feel like the person is trying to take advantage of me, the foreigner, when they respond in this way. Lord, grant me the patience I need for these interactions and help me to remember to invite other friends into the conversation to help me out.

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