The Art of the Barter
Depending on where you’re raised and your understanding of the world, you might wonder why things are the way they are once you’ve left your comfort zone. Take for example, myself. I was raised in rural Minnesota. Some might see it as a slightly backwards place, with strange people whose notions of fun include driving around in mud, shooting each other with paint, sitting in tiny huts over holes cut in the ice, etc. However, one thing that I believed made sense everywhere, was the idea that purchasing an item should be as simple as paying the price printed on it. Oh I was so wrong.
You see in other places around the world, such as Nepal, the price quoted or printed is really what I like to refer to as: A starting place. You could just take it and walk away. However, you would never know just how much you’ve been ripped off, and increased the standard price for the guy after you. A lost art has been resurrected in this seemingly simple culture. The “Art of the Barter”.
Bartering isn’t simply a way to get the things you want or need. It’s a way of life. Need a place to stay tonight? Gotta barter for it. Perhaps you’re hungry for some food? Hope you’re ready to barter for it. Did you just accidentally step in a foot and a half of fecal water and now you need new boots…well that’s just bad luck. What did you do to bring on such bad karma? No matter what it is, nine times out of ten a little simple haggling and debating will get you a better price.
We picked up a few simple techniques that seem to work while bartering:
Suggest a price: Instead of asking how much something is, suggest the price you think it should be. Many times they’ll laugh at you and say, “No, no, no…” with a goofy shaking of their head. Then they’ll give you a higher price. Just keep alternating till you reach something in the middle.
Get the “Best Price”: This can be in the morning before they’ve had a sale that day. “Morning price, first sale. I give you good price!” It can be at the end of the day so that you’re the last sale. “End of day price. Last sale of the day, I give you good price!” Actually, it can be had whenever. All day every day is a good time for a deal. Feel free to make up your own fun sales and suggest it to them. They’ll get a kick out of it. Also…I found putting on a fancy hat that makes you look like Michael Jackson and dancing for a video on their camera phone also helps.
The Walk Away: This is the best, tried and true method to get the absolute lowest price. You’ve come to a point where you either don’t want to pay their price or really can’t afford it…and you just walk away. Sometimes you might say, “No, sorry, I can’t. Goodbye.” Alternatively, you might just look sad and frustrated, walking away without a word. Either way, once the back is turned and you’ve stepped away you’ll most likely hear, “Sir, sir! Ok, ok, I give you it for (insert best possible price here).” Usually I buy my wares at this time.
Shopping in Nepal is an ordeal in and of itself. You’ll learn about yourself as a person, how you deal with stress and handle arguing with people under pressure. Coming off of a bus into a sea of Nepali’s that all want you to take their jeep and stay at their hotel can be daunting. You may lose your temper. You may yell at them. This will not help you. Take a breath, view the options, and enjoy the experience. Once you’re home looking through photos you’ll remember it with great fondness.
Finally, just know that if you’re bargaining is coming down to the wire over a few rupees…just jump on it. When all is said and done you are probably better off in life than they are and that few extra rupees will mean more to them than it will to you. It’s also possible that you’re fighting to get the price down lower than what they paid for the item. In which case you’re doing them a disservice. All in all, enjoy the ride, live in the moment, and try to grab a few good photos while you’re at it.