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Spending money to shore up social status

Update: February, 06/2012 - 18:58

 

by Trung Hieu

Ha Min is the daughter of a rich family in Hang Dao Street. She has a monthly salary of just VND7 million (about US$300) but she has an endless passion for shopping.

Every weekend morning, she travels to the city's main shopping centres, such as Vincom Towers.

In under an hour, she bought ten items totalling VND40 million (more than $2,000).

"I am bored, today they don't have many new things. Perhaps next week I should fly to Singapore or Thailand and have a real shopping day," Min told her friends.

In just one morning, passing through several luxury stores, you can see many young people spending like money has gone out of fashion. A common trait appears to be the habit of not looking at a product's price tag and when paying, simply handing over a wad of cash to the shop assistant.

It's strange to think that while so many housewives are counting every penny to cope with the "pricing storm" caused by economic and financial difficulties, part of society spends money as if they had a money printer at home.

Minh Chung, who works at a Parkson shopping centre, says: "I recognised that, though prices have soared after the Government adjusted exchange rates, the goods worth thousands of dollars still sell like hot cakes, even better than before."

A fashion shop owner in Chua Boc Street says last year, her monthly turnover was about VND200 million ($9,500), but it has now dropped to VND70 million ($3,300), and continues declining.

"Recently, all my clients are business people, and children of high-ranking officials, not many everyday people," she says.

During these difficult economic times, average workers have had to concentrate their income on food, medical expenses, and other necessities and have to scale back spending on clothes, beauty and entertainment.

The title "VIP" is actually for people with important social positions and responsibility, however many rich people today consider themselves VIPs by the way they spend.

"Being a VIP, you can't spend like an ordinary man," is what these supposedly high society people think. They try to create their own style by the way they buy, how they speak and what they like.

At a luxury bar in Tran Nhat Duat Street, a young man told his friend: "Newspapers recently complained about a bowl of pho (noodles served with Japanese beef) worth VND850,000 ($40). The story is as small as a mosquito! I can spend VND5 million ($238) for such a bowl for my breakfast!"

His friend sniggered: "You idiot! As you have money, just come to these bars, ask for some bottles Louis 13 aged 40 years old, to both have fun and affirm your "class". Then you find a beautiful girl and bring her to a hotel to relax, that is the way to live!"

One of the bar staff murmured to another: "These youths are the sons of two rich businessmen from the Central provinces and are known to be drinking connoisseurs who incessantly court women. They come here three times a week, and have never left with a bill less than $5,000!"

Another common trait of these supposed VIPs is to ask vendors to bring products directly to their homes.

"I like to have someone serve me at home and when I receive the product, I give them a tip of VND100,000, looking at their happy face, I feel pleased," says Phan Quyen Quy, a car trader, after buying a foreign bottle of spirits worth more than VND70 million ($3,300) to treat his friends.

A young girl told a female assistant: "You must bring this product to my house at exactly 5:05pm, with a ready-made bill. If you come 10 minutes late, I will cancel the order as I am only free for a few minutes!" She spoke with a haughty voice, before stepping into a luxury car.

When her car left, the store clerk shook her head and mumbled: "You only eat, go shopping and go to beauty salons. How busy you are?" She felt annoyed with the client but had to obey her order, because her shop owner told her that in the last two years, this "special" client bought clothes worth more than VND300 million at their shop.

"She is the lover of a big boss. If you make her angry, you could lose your job!" the shop owner warned the assistant.

According to statistics, these "upper strata" people only account for 2-3 per cent of the total population, but spend much more than other groups. Ralf Matthaes, regional managing director of TNS Market Research Company, said: "In Viet Nam, a class of people who love to spend money is appearing - they spend as if they live in Hong Kong or Singapore."

According to TNS, shoppers in Ha Noi tend to buy more luxurious goods than people in HCM City because many want to build their own image. Middle-class people are eager for luxury goods more than the upper class because they want the others to recognise their "rank".

Another feature of the retail sale market in Viet Nam is the importance attached to luxury items. They include cars, diamonds, LCD and LED TVs, laptops, home theatre systems, gold jewellery and houses.

These luxury goods give them a flashy appearance, but they are a small group in our society, which do not reflect the experience of most Vietnamese.

Looking at the way they spend, you might ask: "Where do they get money from?"

Their money comes from rich parents or lovers, and perhaps from corrupt officials. I am sure that many of these young people do not have to work hard to earn money, so they don't really see the values of money, or respect it. — VNS

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