Emiratis complain of chronic overcharging in shops

An assumption that all UAE nationals are wealthy means many Emiratis are charged more than double the price paid by expats.

Walking into a shop in the UAE wearing a kandura or an abaya comes with a price - and it's usually higher than what everyone else pays, according to Emiratis.

Jacked-up prices affect Emiratis every day, and most are resigned to being unable to do anything about it.

"It's like the shopkeeper's eyes light up when you walk in wearing a kandura," said Omar Ismail. "They assume we're all wealthy so we're fair game."

The professional comedian said the practice is widely known within the Emirati community, with shops in Abu Dhabi and Dubai regularly upping prices for everyday items when the buyer is Emirati.

"Unfortunately, people think all locals sit on barrels of oil," said Issa Al Sayed, a 44-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi. "But we're not all like that."

Mr Al Sayed said he has seen prices triple when he wears his kandura.

"My expat friend would buy something for Dh70, but when I go to the same place they refuse to go lower than Dh250," he said.

After years of paying through the nose, Mr Al Sayed has learnt to change his shopping habits - and his clothes.

"It makes a difference when you wear jeans and a T-shirt and don't speak with your local accent, you find people have a different perspective of you," he said.

Mr Al Sayed grew up with Pakistanis, Indians and Arabs of all nationalities and picked up words and accents that helped him find out what expats really think of Emiratis.

"I used to get the bus in Western clothes, spoke Hindi, or with an Egyptian accent, and found some people think we're just goofy people," he said.

"Overcharging happens mainly with Indians and some Arabs," he said. "They think we're backed by the UAE's wealth - like it's filling our pockets. Some Emiratis' wealth is the same or even less than expats, but the stereotype prevails."

For Amna Al Falasi, a 23-year-old teacher, being overcharged is a common topic of discussion among friends and family.

"I remember having an abaya made in Deira. The shopkeeper assured me he was offering the best price and quoted Dh700," she said.

"A month later I spotted an Egyptian friend wearing the exact same one. When I asked her how much it cost, she told me Dh300."

She said most Emiratis believed the practice was ingrained among storekeepers. However, she has noticed prices going much higher recently.

"Every time there is an announcement that Emiratis are getting salary rises it is reflected in the prices we get quoted. I don't think it's going to change."

Sultan N, a 22-year-old student in Dubai, says he has been a victim of overcharging at electronics shops in Satwa and Deira.

"My Syrian friend bought a phone for Dh1,700, but when I went for the same one the shopkeeper added Dh200," he said.

He tried to haggle but the shopkeeper would not go below Dh1,900. "He took advantage of what I was wearing but he doesn't realise some locals can't afford it," Sultan said. "Many Emiratis are simply not rich."

It's not only shops that put up prices when Emiratis walk through the door, restaurants are also charging more.

Humaid Rashed Salem, a 38-year-old public relations officer in Abu Dhabi, claims that while he was having dinner with friends in Marina Mall, an Indian maître d' told staff to "raise the price because they are Emirati."

"One of my Emirati friends who speaks Hindi overheard him and said we would only pay the price on the menu," Mr Salem said.

When shopkeepers were asked whether they raised prices based on a person's nationality, many denied it. Some said a bit of haggling is what gets shoppers the best price.

"I've never charged a higher price to Emiratis," said Mohamad Iqbal Hussein, a Bangladeshi manager at Ruqiya Mobile Phones in Abu Dhabi's Madinat Zayed Centre.

"I'm sure other places do but it's not fair, everybody should pay the same."

Mohammad Alam, the manager at Village Mobile Phones in Abu Dhabi, felt the same. "I haven't charged locals more and I don't think other shops do," he said. "I know they don't all have money."

However, a trader running a computer store in Deira said he did not believe he was doing anything wrong by raising prices.

"It depends on how skilful the customer is in haggling," he said. "People used to haggle much more years ago and it was a part of everyday life.

"Since the malls opened they have lost that skill. It's a case of being able to negotiate a good price."

An Indian shopkeeper who runs a clothes shop in Bur Dubai said: "We don't have a list price, so what we quote is an opening offer. I don't think it's unfair because most people expect to barter."

He said he had often given Emiratis bigger discounts than other nationalities.