The Art of Haggling

This post was written by Blogger Son #1 about his adventures in haggling around the world.

I thought that I would  talk all about bargaining and the markets. While traveling, one will often spend a good amount of time around the markets – buying souvenirs for loved ones at home or just roaming around.  I know that my wife and I have spent a ton of time in the back streets of Morocco hunting down the most unique gifts at the lowest prices possible. Not only is it really nice to have things to bring home from exotic places …. haggling for the lowest price is pretty damn fun. And I will say, I have gotten pretty good at it (or at least I think so) although I guess I will never really know what the lowest/local price is.

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A few general notes about haggling: Each country / geographical region is different. I know that when I was in Central America, people would haggle with you for what seemed like hours. You could say “no” a hundred times but they would still chase you down the street asking you for “last price”. In Central America the sellers would often start with a really inflated starting price and you would have to counter with a really low offering…and then you would work your way to a happy medium well,  not a medium more like a quarter of what we started out with.

It has been a while since I was in Egypt but I remember that  the haggling was really animated. The sellers would hold their chest yelling in pain saying that you are breaking their heart (and would expect you to do similar).

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Parts of South East Asia were much different especially when coming from Central America and  they didn’t seem to enjoy haggling as much. And would often not bargain – or just name a price close to the actually selling price. If you countered with too low of an offer they would get offended and not sell anything to you.

Morocco seems to be similar to Central America.  The sellers will really try to push their luck and give you a really high first offer. Then of course you need to counter with a low bid. But not too low or they wont except it and you’ll have to make another offer. Part of the trick is to avoid adjusting your price too often or at least getting them to adjust their price every time you do. Here is an example of a typical transaction:

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Customer walks by a shop and just happens to look at something hanging outside
Seller: “Hello, Bonjour, Hola”
Seller: “Are you English?”
Me: (I’m still ignoring him)
Seller: Take a look, no buy just look. Where are you from? England, Germany?
Me: America (or Australia or Germany or South Africa …depending on my mood)
(I have already spotted what I want to buy but I don’t want to give any hint to the fact that I want this item…I am looking at everything else.)
Me: How much for xxx (some other random item….something that should be in the same price range as what I secretly want)
Seller: “I give you good price!” “Today good day”
Seller: “500”
Me: “Woooo too much, How much for this other thing (the thing I really want)”
Seller: “ok ok I give you family price, 450”
Me: “no I don’t want it….” (Leave the shop and start looking at stuff out front (as opposed to inside)
Seller: Ok what is your price?
Me: “too much, I pay 100”   (note: I always tend to say 100 less than I really want to spend).   My first offer will be,  lets say 100, then he will laugh and I will tell him that his price was too high.  If things go according to plan he will make a big drop. Then I will make my biggest increase (lets say to 150) and then we will haggle over 10’s until we converge at 200.

This goes on forever…the seller is always trying to get you to up your price by saying “give me your best price” “give me your last price” and I am always trying to get a new price from him “give me a real price” “I don’t need this” “give me last price”. One nice little trick I learned is to make the same offer twice, but pretend like it is a new offer. The goal is to get him to drop his price twice without you increasing yours). It also helps to have my wife with me. One of us can play the good cop (normally her) and one of us can play the bad cop (me)…this works really well. We have the routine down! I will end this with some random notes about our haggling adventures.

Sellers LOVE gifts/presents. If you are close to a price that you want but can’t get them to lower anymore, offer a simple gift. Even a pen or a little charm or something. My wife is great with this  She was haggling with the guy forever over a price, and as soon as she offered a whole pack of gum as a gift he said “done!” She saved her main item,  the one that  everyone has been eyeing for her biggest purchase and it worked as well.
When we are planning our market shopping trip we sit  down and talk about our game plan.   We know that if we want two of a particular item but we will only let the sales person know that we wanted one until the last second..then we would demand a cheaper rate for two (it works).   We will also wait till a fast is broken (like after Ramadan) or late in the day just before the market closes. There are tons of tricks…and we love it!
Occasionally when we leave a store the seller may be a little disappointed – this is a good sign that you got a good deal.  While I do my duty and support the local economy, a heated negotiation is part of shopping abroad and can be a lot of fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have been called a Berber Man (I think this means frugal or cheap).
Have you noticed different types of haggling throughout the world?   Wondering if your experiences have been like mine.
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2 thoughts on “The Art of Haggling

  1. I’m so not good at haggling (definitely not something I should admit in front of a seller), but I also haven’t been to a lot of places where haggling is common. I did do a bit of haggling at a market in Mexico, but I’m sure I probably overpaid for the hat I bought.

  2. My son is also great at bargaining. I think that not everyone can do it, but if you can and you enjoy it, it is great fun. Being a young single guy, my son adds flirting to his bargaining bag of tricks. This worked great in China where many shopkeepers at markets are female. It may work less well in the middle east where men are more frequently the sellers at the shuks. I had to laugh when I watched him do it, particularly when he used the line he specifically learned in Chinese for bargaining: “I am a poor student.” Obviously an American studying in China was – even if on a scholarship – not a “poor” student compared to the standard of living there. It made the sellers laugh and the bargaining was good-natured. I still enjoy the shawls and pearls we bought together at markets in Beijing, but sadly he has outgrown the pants and shirts we had made for him at truly ridiculous prices. Guess it is time for another trip!

    My cousin, who spends a lot of time in China due to her husband’s job, has a different take. She won’t bargain much, thinking that even if she is “taken” the prices are still so low that she’d rather help the shopkeeper by paying a higher price. She is more than able to do it and feels it is the least she can do to help those not as fortunate as she is.

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