Thursday, October 28, 2010

Special price for you, my friend: the art of haggling

I rarely buy souvenirs.

Partly because I live out of a suitcase, but mostly because I'm broke.

These days I have to budget in a cup of coffee.  And no, I don't go to Starbucks. Otherwise this would be a legitimate thing to do. $8 a latte adds up.

British guy doesn't really buy souvenirs either. British guy just prefers to do his day-to-day shopping while we're traveling. Which is why I am very familiar with the menswear shops in Turkey and Morocco. If you want to know where to get the best deals on boxers in Casablanca or Istanbul, let me know.

This is what British guy purchased on our recent trip to Morocco:
  • One leather satchel 
  • Boxers
  • Ceramic spice container
  • Argan oil 
  • Postcards
  • Cell phone case

This is what I purchased:
  • Postcards
As you can tell, I'm a real shopper. Not that British guy is either. He wears the same pair of North Face pants every day (ok, fine, "trousers" for all you Brits giggling in the back row). I'm pretty sure he just can't be bothered to shop for things he actually needs unless he's traveling. Depending on where you're traveling, this is not such a bad idea. Shopping in Morocco and Turkey is a lot cheaper than shopping in Europe. But you have to know how to haggle. 

Haggling can be intimidating if you're not used to it. Often Westerners just want to be told a price and then--depending on the price-- either hand over their money or walk away. End of story. Haggling can seem tedious and many people approach it with a bit of trepidation. Here are some steps* to help streamline the process and make sure you get--if not a good price--at least not an over-the-top price.

Let's say you're in Morocco and you want a leather satchel.** You find one that looks nice and you enquire as to the price. The guy asks 800 dirham (roughly 80 euro or 100 USD) for it. That sounds like more than you should be paying, but you don't really know for sure. Here's what to do:

1. First off, halve his price. Whatever the asking price is, chop it in half. In this case, counter him with 400.
2. He'll probably come back with 600.
3. Sigh heavily.
4. He'll say 550.
5. Make a face.
6. He'll drop it to 500.
7. Shake your head and make a sound that conveys you still think it's too expensive.
8. He'll drop it down to 400.
9. Walk away and repeat until you have a sense of what a reasonable price is.

The best thing to do is to shop around. This will allow you to gauge what the market price is which can be one of the intimidating things about haggling. Often you've been in the country for less than 24 hours. You can barely remember what country you're in, let alone what the standard price is for a leather satchel. Go to other stalls in the market places that sell leather satchels and go through the same thing. If you can't get any of them lower than 400 dirham then chances are that's a pretty standard price for it.

Don't worry about haggling for food or hotels. DO haggle with taxi cab drivers and when shopping for anything other than food or other basic items. Basically anything you find in a grocery store, you won't need to haggle for.

If haggling really intimidates you, having a friend along to go back and forth with can make the process a little less painful. See below.

British guy: What do you think about this satchel?

Me: It's alright. I guess.

Vendor: It's 800 dirham.

British guy: 800? Hm, what do you think?

Me: I don't know. That sounds like a lot.

Vendor: Ok, ok. For you, 600.

British guy: 600?

Me: That's pretty much 60 euro. Do you really need to spend 60 euro on a leather satchel?

Vendor: It's handmade and lined with camel skin. I can give it to you for 500, but no lower.

British guy: I do like the look of it. It's perfect for carrying classified documents around.

Me: ::makes disapproving and unconvinced face::

British guy: Well, how much would you pay for it?

Me: I don't know. Probably not more than 300.

Vendor: Ok, ok. Student price. 400.

Et voilà. Or keep haggling if you're still not satisfied with the price.

A good haggler is somewhere in-between the individual who accepts the first price and the individual who will stand for hours arguing over pennies.

If you still think haggling really isn't your thing, you can always hire a personal shopper. 

And of course, it goes without saying that you should always purchase items from shops that have been previously endorsed by President Obama.

Egyptian Spice Market, Istanbul, 2009

*These steps are from my own experiences living in the West Bank, Palestine and traveling through other areas in the Middle East and North Africa. It's not meant to be a comprehensive guide to how people haggle around the world. Just the regions I've been in. If you have any stories or tips from your experiences in these or other areas, definitely post them in the comments section or drop me a line and I'll include them in the post.

**With leather bags in these areas, I would recommend choosing one that is a little bit more expensive. Often the local tanning process uses a urine-base which is fine in an arid climate, but when you get it home you'll start to notice that it smells like something died. The smell can also result from the hide being poorly preserved before the tanning process. So with leather products, I'd invest a little bit more time and money to make sure you get something that won't have all the passengers on the plane ride home looking at you in disgust. 


Melissa said...

Hey thanks so much for following my blog! Reading through yours now and realizing what a travesty it is that I'm working a desk job and NOT seeing the world! Voted for you :)
- Melissa

Melissa said...

Or rather I thought I voted for you! I have to wait to get the email verification before I can :( But I will :)

Nikki Hodgson said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks for voting for me!! :) That's awesome! I really enjoy reading your blog. I'm such a sucker for a food blog (what can I say? I love to eat) and yours is great! Looking forward to trying out some of the recipes you've recently posted.

Ben and Carrie Tracks said...

Ohh the art of blogged about it perfectly - I like how you refer to yourself as "guy from Britain" :) Glad to have found your site through TBEX and looking forward to following your adventures...As wildlife biologists, Morocco is definitely on our list to find a field job at/or just visit!

-Carrie & Ben

Nikki Hodgson said...

Ben and Carrie- Thanks for the add! And glad you enjoyed reading the post. I love the photography on your site btw! Beautiful!

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