Haggling in bazaars and souks


Almost all North American and western European tourists visiting North African, Middle Eastern, South American countries and China never haggle when buying souvenirs

I wish I had reliable information of the amount of money souvenir vendors all over the world overcharge tourists annually.

When in any Middle Eastern- or Oriental or North African country, or Armenia, or Iran or Georgia you will have to master the elaborate dance of haggling. In these countries bargaining is not a sport; it is a bodily function like breathing.

Haggling in bazaars and souks or with street vendors in South America, or China is a must. These vendors know instantly when a tourist approaches them by how much to over quote. The merchandise has no stickers and only the vendor knows how much he/she paid.

What is merchandise worth? Whatever the buyer and seller agree on is the definition. The problem us those tourists in general think in terms of their local currency and value anything accordingly. Sometimes this can be as much as three or four times more than what would be the normal price for a local.

In Shanghai a stall owner hawking silk shawls wanted 180 reminbi for one, I offered

40.00. Believe it or not, the vendor agreed. As it happened, there was an Australian next to me and he heard the price he too bought a few of the same shawls. Who knows whether I paid too much! Even if I did, it was not an outrageous amount.

The best haggler I ever encountered was an Austrian, living in Istanbul, and who was a carpet lover. After one-and-a-half years of haggling he was able to arrive at a price he thought acceptable.

Whether or not he paid the “right” pride is not known.

First plan what you want to buy, then take a nonchalant walk in the bazaar and look at similar merchandise, casually asking the price. Start by offering 25 per cent of the price quoted. You may end up paying anywhere from 40 – 50 percent the asking price.

In fact, vendors are so astute that they can guess where the tourists hail – for Americans the price quoted is very high, for French somewhat lower, for immigrants in Europe visiting their country of origin still lower, and the lowest price will be for locals.

The worst overcharging, may be even gouging, happens in galleries specializing in paintings, or antique shops.

Here, owners quote, or even put stickers on each painting, and still are prepared to haggle.

If you know a local in a country you are visiting, ask him/her to accompany you. They can, but do not always guide you to the right store or bazaar, and haggle on your behalf.

Never shy away from haggling, and if need be, walk away, and see how quickly the vendor will call you back with a much lower price.

Often a carpet vendor will make you comfortable, order tea or coffee, and carry on a conversation while one his helpers (always a young boy) will patiently show you all kinds of carpets. Beware! You will always end up paying more than what the carpet is worth, and even for the hospitality extended to you.

Even precious stone cutters in South America and Far Eastern countries (Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka) paying for taxis from your hotel to their premises and back, will overcharge. Be prepared to haggle.

Caveat emptor.


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