For most Westerners, shopping is a defined process that ends with whatever number is listed on the price tag. However, in most parts of the world, the experience is far more interactive. Haggling is a way of life in just about every developing country. Here’s what you need to know and how to prepare to haggle like a pro while traveling abroad.
It’s All Part of the Dance
In the developed world, haggling is reserved for a handful of niche shopping experiences like buying a car or rummaging through goods at a tag sale (or “yard sale”). So, it might feel surprising, weird, and unnatural to bargain almost everywhere you travel in Asia, Africa, and South America. But, the haggling experience is ingrained in most of these cultures. At markets, mom-and-pop shops, and souks throughout these continents, shoppers are expected to haggle.
It’s Rude Not to Haggle
Immediately accepting a sticker or given price is for fools. It also marks you as a tourist and perhaps a rude one at that, since you’re apparently so wealthy that you don’t need to haggle. Especially in larger souks in Africa and the Middle East, most goods are marked with “tourist” prices. Locals know the best price on those same goods is often far, far lower.
Know When to Go
At larger markets where competition is fierce, it can be better to visit at certain times of the day. Ask a local friend, tour guide, or even your hotel owner. In the morning, for example, proprietors may be itching to make an early sale. If you shop just ahead of closing time, however, you may find owners who had a slow day and are looking to offload goods at deeply discounted prices.
Understand the Art of the Deal
If you’re planning to bring home a big haul, it pays to shop around. If you’re scouting beautiful rugs at a market in Marrakech, for example, compare prices from several vendors to get a consensus on the overall sticker price. The prices can vary widely, but it pays to know who’s selling what and for how much before you start bargaining. Expect sticker prices to be many times more than the “real” (read: lowest) price.
Bring in Local “Muscle”
Having a local — or, at the very least, someone who speaks the local language — by your side while shopping is invaluable. Shopkeepers are less likely to screw you over if they know you understand their tricks and how the game works. If you happen to be on a guided tour, ask your guide to come in on the haggling process. In my experience, they’re happy to help. They also tend to have excellent people skills and can befriend shop owners quickly which is always in your favor.
Above All Else, Be Kind
Like your mother taught you, be kind, courteous, and smile. No matter where in the world you’re traveling, remember shopkeepers are just people. The typical haggling experience in the U.S. — particularly when buying a home or car — can be an unpleasant and contentious one. But, bargaining at an exotic market will always be a different experience. It’s supposed to be lively, social, and fun. So, don’t take it too seriously.
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