Few aspects of living in Thailand seem to grind a long term expat's gears quite like the dual pricing system.
Not that you needed reminding but the dual pricing system is the apparently ‘evil practice' of charging someone double or three times more than a local to enter a national park, shrine, tourist attraction, amusement park, etc, purely on the basis of them being a foreigner.
We see these rules enforced at numerous places all over the country and very often the approach to charging higher entrance fees to foreigners is none too subtle. The admission price for a non-Thai might be clearly stated in English, whereas the local price is written in Thai. If those who contribute to expat discussion forums are to be believed, then this is nothing but a further way to antagonize and deceive.
Dual pricing in Thailand came under the spotlight again this week but this time it didn't concern a national park or a tourist attraction. In an angry letter to a local newspaper, one elderly expat recounted the tale of him purchasing a senior citizens pass for the Bangkok BTS system - only to be told at a later stage (by an over-officious employee) that the pass could only be used by locals and the expat was to some extent ‘cheating the system'.
I'm not sure which upset the expat more - the fact that a poorly-trained member of the ticketing staff had sold him a rail-pass that he clearly wasn't entitled to - or the fact that he couldn't ride the BTS for the same price as a local of the same age.
It's this whole ‘one rule for them and one rule for us' thing that has expats spitting blood.
My attitude to dual pricing
I realize I am probably part of a silent minority here but when it comes to dual pricing in Thailand, I couldn't care less.
For starters, I only encounter these issues once a year at most on the few occasions I venture outside Bangkok for a long weekend away. It doesn't happen often enough to lose sleep over.
If Thailand wants to charge more for foreigners to stroll around a temple then I really don't see the problem. It's their country. They make the rules. I'm just a guest here.
I cringe when I see the line "well if you don't like it, then go home" (as you do on many expat forum threads on dual pricing) - but is there truly a better answer? And to that I would add, for those who say "you would never see dual pricing in (insert name of country) then perhaps Thailand - and some of its more questionable laws - is not for you.
There are many sides to the dual pricing argument. My wife for example is a fierce opponent of the practice. "Everyone should pay the same price - foreign, Thai, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief" And I've heard many other Thais say the same thing (usually those who are married or in long-term relationships with expats)
Some time ago, I chatted at length with a group of my wife's colleagues and asked them for their opinions. Nearly all of them considered the dual pricing system to be ‘a benefit' for the local Thai people rather than a deliberate attempt to extort more money out of a foreigner. None of those people I questioned were married to an expat I might add.
The penny drops
Dual pricing used to bother me considerably more than it does now - but only because a long time ago, I had something of a eureka moment.
It was during one of the first trips my parents made to Thailand, accompanied by another couple who they were friendly with at the time. So I was playing the role of streetwise host to a group of four.
I forget exactly where we were but we'd hired a minibus and driver from a tour agency in Chiang Mai and the driver arranged a two-day schedule for us aimed at taking in the best of the local attractions at a leisurely pace.
After the essential hill-tribe village and the long climb up a mountain to tick off a temple and admire some views, we stopped off at a waterfall. The driver left us to our own devices and climbed into the back of his van for a snooze.
The sign at the entrance to the waterfall confirmed my worst fears - 10 baht for Thais and a whopping 40 baht for foreigners! We would have to pay four times the price of a local to view a waterfall that would probably be nothing more than an ambitious stream anyway.
Keeping the harmony
I wasn't standing for any of that nonsense. I explained to the woman at the ticket office that I had lived and worked in Thailand for several years and while they could go ahead and fleece my tour group for the inflated admission fee, I was only willing to pay the local price.
But I forgot two important things. Firstly, the woman at the ticket office had heard this argument a thousand times before. Her glazed expression gave it away. She didn't give a fiddler's whatsit. "You farang. You pay 40 baht. End of story"
Secondly, while I stood there frothing at the mouth, pissing my pants and threatening to write furious letters to The Bangkok Post, my small tour group looked on with great concern. And it dawned on me that the only thing I was succeeding in was to effectively ruin everyone's day.
My tour group had seen the sign saying that they would have to pay four times more than a local. Their reaction was to shrug their shoulders and say "why not? What's the problem? We're on holiday"
And when you look at things another way - what right did I have to spoil everyone's day?
I should have adopted the same attitude but decided to become a self-appointed crusader for farang rights in Thailand - and make myself look an arsehole into the bargain.
Accept that there are some battles you will never win.