OK, so have found yourself in a fabulous Arab bazaar in some hot, sandy and exotic country. It is a maze of twisting alleyways crammed with people and intriguing shoplets selling bright and alluring handicrafts: colourfully decorated carpets, lamps, clothes, leather and metalware.
Trapped in shopping heaven, you almost pass out with excitement. Sweet, musky incense wafts through the air, and as you saunter along in the heat, handsome swarthy men try to entice you into their shops with cheesey one-liners “Madame, can I ask you something…?”
Shopping in an Arab souq is something you have to be in the mood for. Patience and a sense of humour are a necessity or you won’t last 5 minutes. And if you don’t have your wits about you, you may find yourself limping back to your hotel under the strain of five carpets and no money to finance the rest of your trip…and wondering how that all happened when all you wanted to buy was a scarf. You had only asked out of interest how much that lovely rug was….and before you knew it – you had five!
Golden Rule No. 1: don’t ask how much something is unless you want to buy it. If you do ask, you are entering into a “negotiation”- commonly known as “haggling”. Your lovely salesman will enquire how long you have been in his country to see how green (stupid) you are, suss out how many gold rings you have on, and then name an extortionate price. Your jaw will drop and you will gasp in horror.
Golden Rule No. 2: ask yourself how much you might pay for this item back home, look at the quality, and then remember you are buying it at the source. It has not been imported and you are cutting out several middlemen. Think what you would be prepared to pay, and then name a lower price. Now it is your salesman’s turn to gasp in horror and act insulted. Game on!
Haggling is theatrics, and can be a lot of fun if you are patient. Have a mint tea and get comfortable! You will now negotiate with your man, he will try to force your price up with all sorts of sob stories about how business has been bad, how many kids he has to feed etc. You have to invent some of your own sob stories about how little money you have and you saved all your life to get here….remember, keep it fun and encourage humour!
Golden Rule No. 3: Stick to your guns! The Arab salesman always wants to win this game, even if only by a small amount, but if possible, by a huge amount! If the price gets beyond what you are willing to pay…walk away. Better to walk away than to regret it later. If your price was not fair, he will let you go. If your price was reasonable after all, your charming salesman will most likely come after you (he hates to miss a sale), drag you back to the shop, wrap your exotic treasure into a neat package, and relieve you of your cash.
And this brings me to the most important rule, Golden Rule No. 4: both parties should be happy at the end of the transaction – you should be happy with what you paid and the treasure that you bought, and the salesman should be happy with his sale. And thus you will get the lovely scarf you wanted and not five rugs.
By Julie Paterson
Venus Adventures – Global Trips for Women who Love to Travel