A few weeks ago, I read a terrible story about a Nepalese woman who ‘attacked’ a British woman because she was haggling (I won’t even give it the dignity of a link here, but you can search it). Appalled, I looked for more information. Upon digging further, I learned that this British woman had actually attempted to bargain down a cup of tea that cost less than $2 USD. Seriously?
The Nepalese woman, I discovered, ran a mountain hut high in the Himalayas, where she offered a place for backpackers to rest and purchase refreshments. Because of the location, the price of the tea was more expensive because it costs money to transport to rural villages. After being quoted a price of 1 GBP and attempting to haggle the price, the British woman took photos of the shop in an attempt to ruin business for them on the Internet. That’s when the Nepalese woman lost it.
To be honest, in this situation I would have been pretty pissed too.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and for a Western tourist to come and haggle the price of a cup of tea seemed unreasonable to me. While traveling on a budget, it’s often common to negotiate, but sometimes it is not appropriate. To help you determine when you should and shouldn’t bargain, I compiled my tips on haggling politely.
Determine the Culture of Bargaining
In some countries, bargaining in shops and markets is common. In others, it’s unheard of. For example, in Guatemala and Morocco, the expectation in many artisan markets is that travelers will attempt to haggle. In the United States or Canada, however, bargaining with a storeowner will often get you escorted out of the building. Be sure to research local bargaining customs, or simply ask around with locals or your hotel staff.
Always Be Polite
One of the things that upset me about the story of the Nepalese woman was how the British woman treated her. Instead of simply paying the 150 rupees (just 1 GBP), the British woman made snide remarks and attempted to slander her on international media. This treatment is simply dehumanizing and rude.
When dealing with people in foreign countries, always treat them as humans and as equals. Even if you know someone is trying to rip you off, yelling at them probably won’t help. Instead, talk to them. Listen to them. Show interest in their products and their work. If you treat others like fellow human beings, they’ll be more likely to work with you on a price you want. Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
In general, there are things you should and things you shouldn’t negotiate. Souvenirs, apparel, and artisan items? Go ahead and try. Food or drinks? Less likely. If you’re buying in bulk, your chances of being able to haggle are much higher. Before you attempt to bargain something, ask yourself, Does it really matter if I get this price down from $1.50 to $1? If the answer is no, don’t bother haggling. Save your energy for the larger items, and give people the wages that they need to live off of.
When Possible, Speak Their Language
One of the most effective ways to bargain is to try and see eye-to-eye with the seller. If you’re hoping to make that connection, one of the best ways to do it is by learning to speak their language. Even an attempt at simple words like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ can make a huge difference in how another person perceives you. It shows that you’re making an effort to connect with them in a way that they understand.
Let It Go
When it gets to a point where you really can’t justify the ‘final price’ of an item, just let it go. When you’re willing to walk away from something, the ball is in the seller’s court. If they really do want to sell it to you, they’ll chase you down and continue the conversation. If not, they most likely couldn’t justify lowering the price any more.
Remember Your Privilege
Many of these shopkeepers in foreign countries make their living off of selling these items. If you’re hung up on bargaining down from $10 to $8 and the seller seems reluctant, there’s probably a good reason why. After negotiating unsuccessfully, if I still really want a product, I’ll usually just suck it up and pay the extra $2. If I’ve already paid thousands of dollars to fly around the world and travel, I probably can spare an extra dollar or two here and there.
If I know the money is going towards a local economy, I don’t feel that bad about spending a little bit extra. Often, these small-scale business owners and families support themselves with the proceeds from these items, and supporting these families is worth the extra few dollars.
The Bottom Line
Much of the world lives off of only a few dollars a day, and by supporting local businesses by paying fair prices, you can help to alleviate that. However, many times vendors will attempt to prey on tourists’ wallets by jacking up prices on items. It’s a fine balance to strike. However, by treating other sellers with respect and being smart about your haggling tactics, you can walk away with a fair price for almost anything you want to buy.
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Do you have any tips to add on haggling politely while traveling? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!