I’m a world traveler and I’m here to help.
Grown adults from the U.S. and Canada find themselves shaking in their boots or even angry when it comes to bargaining for goods in foreign countries. It’s safe to say that most Anglos find it distasteful, yet bargaining is inherent in many cultures around the world. Native peoples have developed this communication skill for centuries, exchanging live chickens for bags of rice, or avocados for woven cloth.
Taught how to sell by their parents or an older sibling, it’s a common event to see children out on the streets or in vendor stalls in Mexico, Central America, Asia and elsewhere around the globe.
So why do tourists shy away from wrangling over the price of their souvenirs? It is my opinion that Americans and Canadians do not understand the value of the choreography between buyer and seller.
Many indigenous peoples have the expectation to bargain for the price of goods and services. This dance between buyer and seller is integral to their cultures, and through the exchange of information going on underneath the dickering over price, both sides learn a great deal about each other.
Most North Americans find it all unsavory and would prefer a marked price with no messy emotional entanglement in the exchange. However, personal interaction is an important ingredient in bargaining cultures and by eliminating this under-the-surface dialogue, there would no longer be the dance. It’s an accepted form of communication but most tourists and Expats don’t know that.
But I’m no good at this¦
Negotiating over price can trigger anxieties in those who feel incompetent in this skill. Nothing can be more aggravating than thinking you are being taken advantage of or that you might be overpaying. Lack of trust or not feeling in control could plague you. But wait! There’s hope.
Bargaining How To’s
Meet the bargaining challenge by knowing the local price. Just because the cost of a similar item in New York City or Toronto is X, you are at a distinct disadvantage if you think the first number offered to you is the best deal you have ever heard. That amount in Dallas would be a steal “ the thing is you are not IN Dallas. You are dealing with a completely different financial economy and valuation structure.
The asking price is always high. It’s an out-of-the-ballpark amount the seller dreams to receive. Start by offering him one-third of this beginning figure. To the uninitiated, that paltry amount might seem insulting. But the truth is experienced buyers and sellers realize that the counter offer is equally ridiculous. The real price lies somewhere in the middle. The dance has begun.
Those who refuse to bargain while living or visiting in these cultures place themselves and other tourists in an unfavorable financial position. Willing to pay 3, 5, even 10 times or more than anyone in the vicinity, vendors take advantage. It is easy to think well, it’s just a few bucks and they really need it more than I do, but that attitude will put you in a weak purchasing place and botches the balance between you.
Check locally for costs so you know what you are talking about. This gives you confidence and a sense of fairness to stand firm. The more you buy the bigger your discount.
While living in Thailand, I commissioned my seamstress to make six reversible Chinese silk robes. Initially, I gave her a drawing and discussed price for one robe. We agreed on the timeline and amount, and then I told her I wanted five more. Could I get a discount for ordering six? Smiling, she realized she had more work making more money and gladly marked my price down even further. We both received what we wanted. Guaranteed work mattered to her, and price mattered to me.
Be willing to leave the deal
A good negotiation requires your willingness to walk away. Vendors have been selling their wares since childhood and they read facial expressions and body language. You might think that you are dealing with a youngster, but they are seasoned and skilled. They know the value of their goods and can read your wallet well.
You might want something terribly, but you have to be willing to leave the deal. If the vendor calls you back, then your price is considered workable. Vendors will not sell at a loss, so if he or she holds firm after you have left, then you have found the bottom price. This is valuable information. Go back tomorrow and open the business deal again.
Don’t engage unless you are serious
This isn’t a game. Vendors value their time and do not take kindly to your wasting it. Engage the bargaining process only when you are ready to purchase. If you are on your fact-finding mission of finding local pricing, indicate such to them. Say I am just looking today, thank you or I’m curious, for example, what would this cost if I wanted to buy it? They will know today is not your purchasing day and will not rev themselves up for deal making. They will respect you for your honesty, and will save their energy for another customer.
If you begin the financial dialogue but are not sincere, you have treated him without courtesy, and have sullied that relationship. You can fully expect to be verbally reprimanded or rebuffed.
Keeping the Financial Ecology Balanced
Indigenous people honor and value the skill of bargaining, and they know what something is worth. Even if they make faces or have drama with their hands up in the air, it’s all part of the play. If money is thrown at them due to what we might perceive as compassion, the native finds himself in the curious position of wanting and needing the money you have, and disliking you for tossing it around so carelessly. He also dislikes himself for having taken your money without the expected bargaining process, and a disrespectful and distasteful posture often develops between the two cultures.
He takes pride in earning the price he receives. How can an Indigenous person respect someone who does not know proper value when they see it and simply casts money away like that?
This exchange between vendor and purchaser is financial ecology. If this interchange becomes unbalanced, emotional attitudes on both sides sour. Tourist destinations become rip-off locations because the authenticity between the two parties has been lost.
Few North Americans understand this tradition and sequence of events.
Even if you feel that you are a horrible haggler, make an effort or no respect will be given to you. You will be wearing a neon sign saying easy target.
So the next time you find yourself in a bargaining situation, take heart! Have fun! Implement the suggestions I have made above, arm yourself with knowledge of local pricing and go shopping!
Editor’s Note: Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com ( http://www.