Hag­gling’s my bread and barter

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST Ge­off Neely

BAR­GAIN­ING is an es­sen­tial skill for trav­ellers. I like to know the lo­cal price be­fore I start, but of­ten one has to fish. I don’t mind pay­ing a tourist pre­mium but no one likes to be ripped off.

In Kath­mandu I have been buy­ing fruit daily from a young man who has set up his bar­row in a va­cant space.

‘‘ How much for this bunch of ba­nanas?’’ ‘‘ Eighty ru­pees.’’ ‘‘ Get away with you. Forty . . .’’ ‘‘ Sixty.’’ ‘‘ Fifty.’’ ‘‘ OK, 50.’’ When I have given him the money and have the fruit in hand I ask, ‘‘ What’s the Nepali price, 30 ru­pees?’’

‘‘ Forty,’’ he replies. ‘‘ You are a very clever man.’’

You need to know the value of the cur­rency. I work out what I would be pre­pared to pay, then bar­gain in the lo­cal money.

Some­times, how­ever, you can find you are hag­gling over a few cents.

On the north­ern side of Bali, away from the tourist haunts, I bar­gain ag­gres­sively over a sarong and when the man ac­cepts my con­sid­er­ably re­duced of­fer, his wife shoots him a look that makes me re­alise how much it means to them. You should al­ways keep your wits about you among peo­ple whose next meal de­pends on get­ting a cus­tomer.

You can work out the lo­cal price in a mar­ket or among a group of com­pet­ing ven­dors. It is best to start ridicu­lously low. If you of­fer, say, 10 ru­pees, the ven­dor will toss his head in con­tempt and you know it is be­low even the bar­gain­ing level.

You can try 20 ru­pees with the next man. If you next sug­gest 30 and get a counter-of­fer, you know you are within range of the right price, and the game has be­gun.

If there is a lo­cal per­son you have be­gun to know and who is not in­ter­ested in the deal, you can ask them what to pay. In Uzbek­istan’s Sa­markand, I ask the man I have been stay­ing with what the bus fare should be to Shakhris­abz.

Sure enough, the driver asks for three times what I’ve been told. We have no com­mon lan­guage but by a sort of noughts-and-crosses game, writ­ing num­bers in my note­book and each party cross­ing out the num­ber and writ­ing a new one, I beat him down to just over the amount my friend has sug­gested.

He shakes my hand in recog­ni­tion of a game well played and I sit next to him on the jour­ney. The coun­try is not es­pe­cially beau­ti­ful but snow has fallen on a vil­lage in the hills and trans­formed this most or­di­nary scene. When I get off, he hands me change; the fare is ex­actly as my friend sug­gested.

Con­versely, I once got a taxi from the air­port at La­hore in Pak­istan and the driver told me (in Ger­man, the only com­mon lan­guage we could find) that at 8pm I was his first fare for the day.

I be­came non­plussed in south­ern France years ago when I asked the price of a let­tuce and in re­ply got what sounded like a rude ejac­u­la­tion.

‘‘ Par­don?’’ I asked. Again the sound, al­most ag­gres­sive this time and with one fin­ger held up. (It is not only the English who speak louder when for­eign­ers don’t un­der­stand.)

‘‘ Un franc.’’ The sound I mis­took as rude­ness was sim­ply un .

One franc. The thing is, I had never ex­pected to buy a let­tuce for 25c.

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