How to master the marketplace:
When I travel to a new country, one of my favorite things to do is explore the local market. Whether it’s the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai, the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, or the veritable buffet of artisans and vendors in Antigua, each one offers a different cultural experience and of course some cool souvenirs to take home.
Step inside, and you’re met with loud music and brilliant colors from every angle. Vendors call out from their booths and tables, selling everything from clothing to decorations to accessories to handcrafted goods… it can be overwhelming at first. But it’s not as intimidating as it looks, and there a few things you can do to make sure you have the best market experience possible.
1. Jump right in.
The best way to get started is to take a walk through the market, look around, and get an idea of what you might want to buy. You don’t have to respond to every vendor who calls you over, insisting that they have the best products and prices; A simple “hello” will do as you go about your business.
When you finally decide what you want, the theatrics begin. You want to look interested but not too interested – if there’s something you absolutely want, don’t show it on your face, because the vendor will pick up on it and give you a higher starting price. Even if you know exactly what you’re looking for, pause for a minute or two. The vendor will show you things they think you might want, and you can take your time before selecting an item.
When you’ve decided, the vendor will sometimes ask how much you want to pay for it – what your “best price” is. Don’t fall for that – they know that the average tourist doesn’t know how much something is worth and want you to start high. Let them make a first move. The first price they give you is going to be much higher than they expect you to pay, and a tourist will be charged more than a local. The typical rule of thumb is to take the first offer and cut it in half, but the vendors are onto this trick as well. There’s no guarantee it’s really a good method. Regardless, after you hear the first offer, start it lower than you’d like to pay, so you have a better chance of working towards a good price. (But don’t go too low that it’s unrealistic – you want them to take you seriously.) The vendor will reduce their price, and you’ll work your way to the middle. It might seem rude or stingy, but it’s all part of the experience. Even the vendors know that.
2. Speak the local language if you can.
Now, if you’re in a country where you don’t even know how to say hello, don’t worry; Most of the vendors will know enough English to make transactions. However, if you do know a few conversational phrases, this is the perfect opportunity to practice! Not only does speaking the language help you get better prices, you can make small talk with the vendors, meet interesting people, and make their day a little better when they’re being ignored by most people walking by. It’s also a learning opportunity - if you want to know how to say a certain word, just ask.
3. Barter as much as you’d like, but be polite.
American/western tourists have a reputation for being impolite, obnoxious, and pretentious. In addition to common courtesy, there are a few things to remember:
• You are never obligated to buy anything from the get-go. If you stop by a stand to browse but don’t find anything you want, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “No, thank you,” and walk away, even if the vendor pesters you a little bit.
• That being said, if you offer a price, you are committing to pay it. Walking away from a vendor’s offer is one thing, but not being willing to pay a price you initiate is rude. (That’s why you start low, so you have a better chance of getting a price you like.)
• Don’t get too hung up on the final price, because the difference might not be any more than a dollar or two. It will still be a better deal than you would get at home.
4. Don’t take it too seriously - have fun!
When you’re in search for that gift or memento of your travels, it can be easy to stress about getting the best bargain for the perfect item. The good news is that many of the stands and booths will sell similar goods, so if you don’t absolutely love something or think you can get a better deal elsewhere, another option won’t be too far away. You also won’t be a bartering wizard right away - like any other skill, it takes practice. Go for the new experience, and maybe you’ll leave with some unique treasures or even a new friend.
- Sarah Michel is a writer, vlogger, musician, and traveler who wears many figurative and literal hats. You can find her online at sarahmichelwrites.com