In the past few years I’ve been living in Spain, where for the last 4 years you will find a large scale economic crisis. I don’t want to prolong about this unsettling issue (a theme for a future post), now I simply want to reflect about the choices and decision-making that led people abuse the system so badly that left tens if not hundreds of thousands of people penniless.
Here’s an example for I mean. Yesterday I needed to change currency from Euros to pounds, something I have done many times in the past. This time it ended up being not only different but also illuminating (after being humiliating). The thing is that I got ripped off. From all the countries I’ve visited (developing world included), the first to rip me off in exchange shop is in Oxford, UK.
As I was saying, I was looking for a place to exchange money and came across this center shop with many signs that shows the currency rate and written in large letters 0% commission. I entered, said hello, asked if it possible to change from Euros to sterling and gave 100 Euros to the teller. The amount she gave me back was lacking little more than 10 pounds. I told her she made a mistake and she said no. I insisted that there should be ten more pounds (according to the 1.27 written all over). She said that it is the commission. Confused I looked at the sign and pointed on where it was written for blind that there is no commission. Little I knew how wrong I was. In small small prints it said on the bottom to ask about the 13.6% commission. Yes, to “ask” about the commission.
I immediately understood and asked to cancel the exchange. Calmly she said there is no refund, pointing to a little plat sign hidden behind the neighboring teller booth.
To be honest it is the last place I expected to be deceived in such a way (perhaps it is the exact reason why they chose that location). I felt cheated and helpless. So this is how people do business. I asked her why she didn’t say there is such a commission and she said she cannot or she will lose her job. The reply to my next question was interesting, I asked how she can do that if she knows the person will be deceived, and she replied that she doesn’t have the luxury not to work. I have to admit that after all the weird jobs I did, this answer was not surprising yet annoying. So that was self reasoning for daily deceiving people, as if it is either deceiving or drinking alcohol watching in a sinking sofa.
Fortunately for me, I´ve been taking a Mooc class of prof. Dan Ariely from Duke University about Behavior Economics and this was a real life application of the course. Ariely talks about how the Default option actually change our way of dealing and negotiating decisions. Having that in mind I couldn´t forget those small prints saying “Please ask about our 13.6% commission”. I began thinking that if someone asks, the teller will tell him there is no commission (or less, depending on how she looks), and it they simply assume they read well the large letters saying 0% commission (without venturing to the unseen letters), she will charge them without saying anything. I went back to the shop and asked. “well – she said – it is negotiable!”. “This is wrong – I said – who can I contact?”. She gave me an email address.
I have to admit that doing Ariely’s Mooc I learned quite a lot but I never really understood the use of it until yesterday. Ariely talks about it in doing good things (as setting the default to donate organs etc.) but now I understood how it is done to legally cheat, to be dishonest in a way that all you think about in the end of the day is how much money you made. Many people choose to blame Capitalism and free market with that, I wouldn´t go that far; I think it is simply people who decide to fraud and cheat, not the tool.
For any of you who arrive to the UK, beware of this company:
28 Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3EY