American tourists spent upwards of 500 billion, yes, billion dollars last year. Much of that was spent shopping, and it wasn’t all fridge magnets. If it’s for sale, we’ll buy it. Illegal items aside, the most popular stuff we buy are hand sewn linens, expensive and costume jewelry, rugs, textiles, art, clothes, tee shirts, shoes, hats, booze, food, spices, coffee, bones, and adorable kitsch, think airplanes made from shells. We buy for ourselves, and we buy for others. God forbid we should come home from a trip without gifts for our relatives and friends.
Let’s face it. After viewing historical sites and churches for a few hours it’s time to shop. In fact, tourists spend up to a whopping 40% of their travel hours buying stuff. We want reminders of places we visited, of the people with whom we connected.
And, we want a bargain-a good deal. But, keep in mind, bargaining is an interchange between a buyer and a seller. It is not a competition. It’s not about winning and losing. A successful sale is when both parties are satisfied with the outcome. Nobody wants to feel they’ve been taken. Good, fair bargaining also fosters peace among people of other cultures. And, it can be lots of fun.
No matter where you are haggling in the world, a few basic rules apply. First, I suggest you visit the fixed price stores to see what items you’re interested in are priced at with a retail markup. Figure you can get 20 to 30 % less than that, sometimes more, in a public market or from the person who made it. Maybe up to 50% some places depending on the mark-up. A good place to begin the excha
Before you start, know what you are willing to pay for something, act indifferent. No matter how much you want something, put on your poker face. A good leading question is,” Is this your best price?” If they say yes, be shocked. “Really? That ‘s very expensive. No discount at all?” You are incredulous. It’s unheard of, no discounts. If they say, “No, no discounts,” walk away. They may call you back. If they do, they might say, “How much do you want to pay?” Give them a price lower than you are willing to pay. Now they might act shocked. Or, maybe they will name a price somewhere between the two prices. Or they could get into the game. ” Now you are trying to rob me!”
Look at the piece again. Ask questions about the piece. Who made it” What material? How old? Where was it made? Ask what ever questions are appropriate for the article you are interested in. What ever you do, don’t let them get you off track. Moroccan rug dealers are notorious for that. If you don’t stay focused they will have you shipping rugs home, so you can go into the rug auction business where, they’ve convinced you, you will make a killing.
Keep a fair perspective. Shopping in rural areas of economically struggling countries is different than buying from professional vendors who have market stalls in heavily trafficked urban areas. Women who sell hand woven blankets or linens, or men who craft beautiful wood carvings have put pride, effort and time into their work. Acknowledge that you appreciate their talent, the workmanship, and pay her/him a fair price. That is not to say you don’t bargain, but perhaps less rigorously, with circumstances in mind.
I’ve had bargaining interchanges that evoked emotion, and connections with women of different cultures that I didn’t see coming. In retrospect these moments were the special ones that defined my trips.
In Cusco, Peru a few months ago, I decided not to climb the steep steps with an afternoon walking tour. I had done enough climbing for the day. I decided to wait at the bottom, mistakenly thinking they would descend the same steps. While I was sitting there, a Peruvian woman with a bag of hand knitted hats, socks, and mittens sat beside me. With a big smile she began to pull out the garments. ” I told her they were lovely, pero, no tengo nada dinero.” She smiled. Everyone says they don’t have any money. Really, I said, ” Estoy esperando a mis amigos que subieron la colina.” (I’m just waiting for my friends who climbed the hill.”) “No tengo dinero.” Really.
She smiled. OK. I had a little. Very little. But, only what I was going to give the tour guide as a tip. Maybe a few pesos more. I liked the hat, socks, and mittens. They were all nice, but I only had 15 pesos. Not nearly enough. That’s less than five dollars. She smiled. “Veinte.” As I was saying I didn’t have twenty pesos in my purse, another vendor, her friend, showed up. She pointed out the workmanship, how lovely they were, how much work it takes to make them. By now I was feeling badly. I know how much work it takes to knit. I understand they are worth more… on and on. Finally, because I truly didn’t have more than 15 pesos, she put the mittens, socks, and hat in a small bag and handed them to me. I felt almost ashamed.
By now, it was apparent that my tour group had probably used different steps to descend the hill. I decided to see if I could find them. A few blocks down the hill, I stopped to have a drink of water. Reaching for the bottle in my purse, I saw that the plastic bag of knitted things had fallen out. My heart lurched. I ran back up the hill, to the bottom of the steps where I had stopped to put my wallet back into my purse, thinking that would be where the bag had fallen out. Nothing. I looked up at the woman. There she was sitting in the same place on the steps, a big smile on her face, holding up my bag. I felt like an idiot. I raced up the steps, gave her a big hug, thanked her profusely, and ran back down the steps.
Bargaining makes us feel as though we actually have some control of the price we pay. Negotiating is much more interesting and fulfilling than simply paying a marked price.
In the US, bargaining is rare unless you are at a garage sale or a weekend flea market. And occasionally, a small shop owner will drop prices on items that have been around a while, but it’s not common practice. It never hurts to ask.
So have fun, and remember bargaining is not about taking advantage of folks who need the money more than you need the object. Because you probably don’t.