Saturday, October 15, 2011

The art of bartering


The bartering system is as old as the world. For centuries we have used the bartering system to purchase all kinds of items. Most travelers from western countries where bartering has fallen out of style struggle with this ancient system upon arrival. Here are a few of my experiences, stories, and tips on bartering.

First off, always keep a sense of humor! A smile and a joke go a long way with wooing your potential salesman. They will be much more likely to give you a good price if you're friendly. A little flirting also never hurt anyone, ahem ladies. In Vietnam I did a good Oi Troi Oi! with a smile and laugh and immediately got them down from 300,000D to 200,000D. Awesome!
Second, be just as stubborn as they are. They can be incredibly stubborn about prices, give it back just as good as they give it, with a smile of course! The shop owners are not stupid, they know how to manipulate you. They know that by refusing to budge on a price will get you, the tourist, to pay the higher price in the end. Don't act over eager for an item, the more interested in something you are the more likely the shop owners are to be stubborn. They have a product that they know you want and just how much are you willing to pay for that item? A face of indifference and a shrug of the shoulders can go a long way in bartering a good price. This puts you in control, instead of the shop owner. Who's manipulating who now? Insert evil laugh here.
When you start bartering have an idea of what you want to pay. If something is 200B I usually start at 100B and go up in smaller increments then they are going down by. Example: a scarf is 200B. I say I'll pay 100B. They reply no, 180B. I counter with 110B. They 160B. Me 120B. We finally agree on 140B.
Don't be afraid to walk away either. An indifferent shrug and a "maybe, I'll be back later", and usually they'll half the price automatically, shouting frantically at you as you turn your back and start to walk away. Lady, lady, ok 100,000R, yes? Good price! You buy now? It is considered ok to walk away during bartering, but at a certain point it is also considered rude to walk away. The further you get in bartering for a particular item the ruder it becomes to walk away. Remember, that you're usually haggling over a dollar or so and at the end of it all, does that dollar REALLY matter to you? Most likely not. Just give in.  
Different tactics I've encountered:
1. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: the kids frequently did rock, paper, scissors. I win you buy from me.
2. Sinhoukville, Cambodia: you buy from me, pinkie promise. While holding out their pinkies for you to shake. Which traveler taught them this? Because I'd like to have a few words with them!
3. Sapa, Vietnam: lady, what's your name? Where you from? How long you in Sapa? You want to buy? As they show me whatever goods they're selling. Usually there was more than one of them, often a group of traditionally dressed hill tribe women surrounding you, talking to you, selling you stuff. My trick here? I talk back to them. What's your name? What tribe are you from? How old are YOU? You want to buy from me? I got several good laughs from this!
4. Ubud, Indonesia: you buy from me, good luck. Apparently it was my lucky day! Who knew that I could buy so much good luck, all for the mere price of buying yet another batik sarong.
5. Everywhere: how much you want to pay? In response to my question of price. My response, free, of course?  (Bat the eye lashes here ladies)
6. Tibet: Looki looki!

It's taken me a long time to feel comfortable enough to enjoy bartering. Now, at least most days, I find it a fun way to interact with the locals in the dog and pony show of bartering.

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