One of the most intimidating parts of going to a market in a foreign country, especially one where you don’t speak the language, is the fear of getting swindled by a crafty merchant — no one wants to vastly overpay for a worthless trinket. If you’re not used to haggling for goods at home, browsing a market can be quite disorienting. It may seem like everyone’s out to scam you or take advantage of you because you’re a foreigner, but the truth is that haggling is simply expected in many parts of the world. Here are a few rules to remember for you to get a good deal abroad.
1. Know the value of what you’re buying.
This is true of shopping at any store, anywhere in the world, but you should always have a sense of the item’s value before engaging in negotiations. Consulting guidebooks, other travelers, or observing fellow patrons can give you an idea of what you should expect to pay. If the seller proposes an insanely high price, you’ll be immediately aware and can counter accordingly. This also means having a thorough understanding of exchange rates, so you’re not standing there doing math in your head. If you’ve done your research and are thoroughly informed, the seller will sense this and be more likely to give you a fair price.
2. Be polite.
This is a rule you learn in preschool, but it’s still highly applicable. It’s natural to approach the merchant with the item you want and immediately start talking price, but some idle chatter can go a long way. Bring levity to the negotiation, and the seller will probably appreciate it. Don’t take the interaction too seriously. Smile, be friendly, attempt to speak their language, and shopkeepers will be more disposed to give you a good deal — or at least not rip you off.
3. Don’t act on emotion.
It’s easy to get frustrated while haggling. Whether a language barrier makes communication difficult or the merchant keeps insisting on a price you deem unfair, always maintain an even-keeled demeanor. If you appear desperate or impatient, it shows the shopkeeper that you place a high value on the item and are likely to spend a bit more. Being rude or aggressive isn’t “standing your ground” — it’s off-putting and will only make the merchant drive the price higher or cease negotiations altogether. Remaining calm, projecting an air of indifference, and not showing your stress will put you in a stronger negotiating position.
4. Don’t reveal your budget.
If you tell a shopkeeper you’re only willing to spend $100, and that’s your absolute limit, guess how much you’re going to spend — $100. Always start your asking price significantly lower than what you’re actually willing to spend. Merchants expect you to ignore their initial (often absurd) offer and counter with something much lower.
It’s also worth paying attention to how you dress. If you’re a tourist traveling through a souk in Morocco, it’s probably a bad idea to wear expensive jeans, Ray-Bans, and a designer handbag while taking selfies on your iPhone X. If you look like you have money, it probably means you do.
5. Be prepared to walk away (and then do).
The merchant has a great deal of power in a negotiation. After all, they own the item and can decide whether or not to part with it. But you have something even more powerful: the ability to walk away. Remember, they want your business. By showing you’re prepared to walk away, you’re playing the most powerful card in your deck. Walk away, and one of two things may happen. The merchant may simply let you go, which means you were never going to get the price you wanted anyway. Or he may chase after you, desperate not to lose a sale.
In Jerusalem, I was at a bazaar with a friend who was looking for a necklace for his girlfriend. The asking price was $160, but my friend had no intention of paying it. He offered $30, an offer that the merchant refused. He offered a “discount” of $155, then $150, but my friend — a more astute negotiator than I would have been — simply shook his head and walked away. The shopkeeper ran after us. “$120!” he shouted. “$100! $80! $75!” We were fifty yards away now, but he was still chasing us through the narrow market. Eventually, they settled on $60, shook hands, and both walked away smiling.