Desis are privy to 'white man's tax' – and will never pay it

Desi Girl: On an Eid holiday, I illustrated to friends the concept of 'gora tax': the price hike levied on goods and services the minute a foreign connection is detected.

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The long Eid weekend that just passed by was a chance for me to illustrate to friends the concept of what savvy desis refer to as "gora tax" (white man's tax): the price hike levied on goods and services the minute a foreign connection is detected.

It’s why that pair of sandals in Naif Souq costs Dh15 if you’re from Lahore or Delhi but Dh50 if you’re from London or Derby. It’s why we wear our shabbiest clothes and try very hard not to talk in English when we go shopping in the local markets.

It started with a friend visiting from out of town and the desire to impress her. As long-time residents of Dubai, we were jaded with what the city had to offer. As bad planners and holders of passports that didn’t give us options for last-minute travel plans, we were panicking at the thought of being trapped inside a local mall with hundreds of thousands of people.

“We should do one of those dhow cruises in Khasab,” I ventured.

Oman sounded like a good idea but someone else wondered if it might be too hot. I shot down the objection, reminding them that I had gone during Eid a few years ago and the weather was great (purposely omitting the fact that the last trip had been a good 10 years ago, when Eid fell during the cooler months).

The promise of floating across the fjords won over any fear of heatstroke, and the onus of booking fell on the most organised one in the group. He promptly presented us with the best option: the trip would cost US$200 (Dh734) per person.

Two hundred dollars? I didn’t need to scrounge around in my wallet to know that this was way over my budget.

Not wanting to rain on everybody’s parade, I decided to make some calls and see if I could get us a better deal. So I went online and homed in on three of the most promising tour operators, read user reviews and called the one that seemed to have done consistently better than the others.

Then came the next step: asserting your desi-ness and quashing any possibility of being perceived as a gora, or Western expat.

I called up the operator and the guy who picked up the phone sounded Pakistani. I must have sounded Pakistani to him, too, and it was quickly established that we were both from Karachi. (Not that I would have had any trouble pretending I was from Mumbai, had the person picking up the phone been Indian). Not a word of English was spoken and within minutes I had us booked on a Khasab dhow cruise.

Yes, the price was still 200 – but the currency had changed from dollars to dirhams.

And so we spent a day on the tiny dhow, alternating between resting on the deck and cooling off in the water. After he had got over his initial indignation at nearly being overcharged, my friend admitted that the concept of “gora tax” no longer eluded him and that instead of being a victim, he was now prepared to use the system to his advantage – with me by his side.

Ujala Ali Khan lives in Dubai and loves all things desi

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