Haggling: An Art or an Inconvenience?

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Viewed as a veritable art form by some and as the biggest annoyance to curse tourism by others, the concept of haggling is viewed with stark differences across the globe, and is therefore undertaken differently in various parts of the world. Despite these variations I believe there to be fundamental similarities which can be applied across the board, meaning that a uniformity of action can be used from India to Brazil.  

Before you embark on your spending spree in the middle of a foreign market place, there are a few safety tips that you should bear in mind. Firstly, always wear a money belt; they are eminently useful for keeping important valuables safe from prying fingers. You may be just as likely to have your wallet stolen in any high street in England, but a lack of money is suddenly much more worrying when you’re stranded miles from your hotel in an unfamiliar Egyptian souk. Secondly, keep a watchful eye out for other tourists; a sudden lack of any other obvious foreigners may be indicative that in your quest for the best bargain you have strayed into an obscure area of the city and risk getting lost. Finally as a general rule don’t wander down to the stalls in the dark, narrow side streets of a city. The dingy alley may have a certain antiquated charm, but the products being peddled there may not be as innocent as the little cuddly camels on the main street. 

When you begin the haggling process, the first thing to bear in mind is that more often than not the person you are haggling with enjoys the process, look closely and you’ll see a smile on their lips. Haggling is not a complex process which relies on intimidation and aggression, if you also go into the conversation with a smile on your face, you will find the experience more enjoyable and you will probably be more successful. 

Having said this, a cheerful countenance alone will not buckle the stall holders years of experience, or their desire to take as much of your money as possible. To get the maximum result out of your haggling then it is useful to go into the negotiations with a few key points in mind. 

My first tip would seem simple, but it has caught out people in the past. Know the exchange rate for the currency you will be bargaining in. I once made the mistake of changing the haggling into pound sterling, multiplied the wrong way and accidentally offered more than his previous price. Fortunately my mistake was quickly realised and laughed off, but it was embarrassing all the same. 

It is always useful to do a bit of research into the etiquette of the places you will be visiting before you go browsing the shops and markets. For example in Malaysia some stall holders may find it insulting if you point at their goods with your index finger rather than your thumb. Some areas will have helpful hints, such as in Italy where shops will have signs informing you that the price is fixed to save you having to ask. If you are not sure it’s best to enquire, some sellers do actually find it stranger not to haggle than to haggle. 

If you are in an area where haggling is an acceptable practise and you see a price marked on the object you want to buy, don’t think that this means the price is fixed. More often than not a labelled price is a tactic on the part of the stall holder, for when you go up and ask about the product they will instantly tell you a lower price than the one on the label, making you think that you are already getting a good deal. They are aware of our British love of fixed rules and are adept at playing off them; therefore take the second price as the starting point for haggling and not the labelled price.  

Before you engage in a price war, consider what the maximum you’re willing to pay is and be prepared to walk away if the price doesn’t go low enough. Walking away in itself can sometimes work to your advantage, the stall holder eager to make a sale but seeing that you’re not adverse to playing hard ball may quickly drop the price down to something more reasonable. At the same time you mustn’t be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn, it’s a process of give and take and they will also have a price that they will not go under. 

Hopefully I have convinced you that as un-English as it is, haggling can be a fun addition to your travels. Your experience of haggling need not be confined to far off places, for example I always ask for an upgrade when checking into a flight, as you never know your luck. However whilst bearing this in mind, I wouldn’t advise you to argue over the price of your next baked potato from Spar.   

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