International Haggling for Fun and Kicks

Happy Thursday!  I was reading Done by Forty’s post on haggling and negotiating, which was not only an interesting post so do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200-but-go-straight-to-the-post-and-read-it, but also had a bunch of interesting and thoughtful comments.  Like in most cases, I think delivery is everything – while some might be dogmatic when it comes to haggling, others can say it in a gentler way.  I tend to be the latter, since I still want to get the most bang for my buck but it’s just not really in me to be emphatic.  My dad, and sometimes B, tend to be the former and with their tough as nails attitudes, they tend to get the best deals, and sometimes at drastically reduced prices.  While I do respect that, I also don’t like feeling like I made them feel bad in a situation, even though if they ended up getting more of my money, they obviously wouldn’t be so.  I think Mrs. DbF and a couple other commenters said it best when the ideal situation is when both parties come out satisfied, so that it’s a win-win.

Anyway, a tangent was that Mr. DbF stated that he negotiates whenever he can, even if it means negotiating with the “impoverished in foreign countries selling their wares,” so that got me thinking – is it bad if I haggle abroad, especially in second/third world countries?  I’m no stranger to haggling, but am I just some mean tourist if I try to haggle a price down even if it just means one or two bucks that would mean more to the seller than myself?  I don’t have any tips or anything, but I do have a couple of pretty funny anecdotes from haggling internationally.  To preface, I can’t remember what I wore on Tuesday let alone a trip that happened years ago, so my pricing might be off from what I remember.

Scenario #1 – The Frog That Ribbets

704954_10151149025024103_1330032960_oOne of the places we went to in Thailand was the floating market, where people primarily sell their wares on boats.  Our tourist guide advised us that the pricing here tends to be higher than normal rates, and to haggle.  I don’t really collect souvenirs, but a middle-aged, gaunt man came up to me and started stroking a stick behind a wodden frog’s back, which caused it to croak and make a “ribbet” sound.  He then busted out a mini-version that made a mini-ribbet sound, which sent me in cooing overdrive.  He knew he had me, so he priced it at 80 bhat (less than $3 dollars).  I then responded with 30 bhat ($1), to which he playfully winced at and said 70 bhat, to which I then firmly said 30 bhat, and, after a bit of back and forth, we settled at 50 bhat.

In that case, I came out $1 “ahead” of his original asking price, but I regarded it more as haggling for playful banter’s sake, rather than really trying to come out ahead $1 richer.  Perhaps I should’ve given him the asking price since it really is just a dollar (I mean, I did come with a tour guide and all), but I think in a “haggle-approved” area, it was more for the spirit of it rather than getting the best price.  I viewed it like playing mah jong or poker at family parties – it’s always that much more fun even if you’re playing for quarters, rather than just for merely playing.  Plus, not only did it end up just being one more thing to dust, but when we went back out to the main streets, I saw it priced at 30 bhat.  So in this case, it felt like he came ahead.

Scenario #2: Taxi in Costa Rica

My favorite shot - the cab driver was kind enough to stop and take a pic since apparently it was foggy and this was the first time in a month that it was clear to see Arenal

My favorite shot – the cab driver was kind enough to stop and take a pic since apparently it was foggy and this was the first time in a month that it was clear to see Arenal

During a vacation to Costa Rica, one of the places we visited was a little city that had a view of the Arenal volcano.  We ended up staying in the Arenal Observatory lodges, which is one of lodging places closest to Arenal but is a bit of a distance from the main city.  In order to get there, we had to take a taxi, and he was charging something along the lines of $30 (they accepted USD, I believe).  Knowing that taxis “should” be cheaper in Costa Rica, and that it was only a few miles away, we replied $10, and after a bit of back and forth and us starting to make our way to another driver, it settled to around $15.  During the ride, he also played tour guide and pointed out different things along the ride, even kindly stopping at a really great view of Arenal so he could take our pics.  The experience was worthwhile so I ended up giving him a $5 tip, and he advised the lodging office of who he was since we agreed we’ll call him for a lift back.  So the next day, we called him, and he said that he would drive us… for $35.  At that point, we were stuck since taxis weren’t lined up like they were in town, and since we were pressed for time to meet up at a tour, we only managed to haggle $5 off.

In retrospect from that whole process, I did feel a bit crummy the first time I haggled (especially since he was so kind during the cab ride), but thought it pretty much came full circle during the second cab ride when he had more leverage to stick it to us.  By that point, though, since he was so nice and a cool person, I also didn’t feel the least bit ripped off, and actually thought “touche!” when he first told us the price.  So in that respect, I think both parties were essentially a win-win.

Lessons Learned

So all in all, I don’t think it’s essentially bad to haggle even if one is traveling in a country that’s less well of than yours.  For the most part, because you’re a tourist, I do think they hike up prices, so it’s only reasonable to haggle (especially in areas where it’s pretty well known/acceptable to haggle).  I do admit, the only times I haven’t haggled was with little children, especially if they make an attempt to run after me and insist I buy their embroidered cloths which will help keep my tortillas warm – if that doesn’t warm your heart, then you pretty much have no soul.  Otherwise, I think it’s pretty fair game, even if just for the “fun” of it.

What are your thoughts or experiences on haggling abroad?

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25 thoughts on “International Haggling for Fun and Kicks

  1. We had to haggle when we went to Arenal in Costa Rica for taxi too. But we stayed in town and needed a cab to the volcano. There were taxi’s lined up with all kinds of different prices, but we also didn’t want to spend too much time trying to find the right price. I don’t remember the exact price, but it wasn’t too crazy. I don’t haggle much but I do try to take at least a $1 off or something just because I know they’re giving me tourist price. But it’s exausting trying to haggle everyday. If it’s cheaper price than in the U.S., sometimes I just just pay because I’m too lazy.

    • I agree haggling can be a chore if it’s daily (or sometimes multiple on the same day)… I mostly did it every few days, so it wasn’t so bad. For rides, we mostly went with shuttles, so thankfully we didn’t have to deal with too many taxi situations.

  2. I went on a week-long immersion trip to Tijuana, Mexico when I was a senior in high school. One of my trip-mates and classmates who spoke really good Spanish helped us out a lot when dealing with the locals. When we went to the nearest marketplace, however, she refused to help us haggle prices down. In her words, she felt like she was “stealing from their families” whenever she haggles.

    Personally, I’m torn. I was raised to haggle (good ol’ filipina blood), but I still feel bad when I do it.

    • Haha, right – my mom is the queen of haggling, I’m just a watered down version of her. 🙂 That’s interesting putting it in a perspective of “stealing from their families” – that switches things up about if I’ll do it in the future.

  3. Anna, thank you so much for the link and the mention, and especially the emphatic invitation to click the link right now. That really made my day & I’m bearing a big grin now, thanks to you.

    I think you did really well in the negotiations, especially armed with the knowledge that the locals are probably imposing a foreign buyer tax. 🙂

    The second scenario with the taxi is especially interesting, as leverage passed from one party to another depending on which direction the cab was driving. When you had options (BATNA), you could negotiate a 50% discount; when you were at the volcano and had no other cab ride, the cabbie knew it and would only allow a 14% discount. It’s a really cool example and a reminder of how options provide great leverage.

    Great post, and thanks again.

    • You’re very welcome – that post was really engaging, and I really liked all the thoughtful comments from it. Haha, foreign buyer tax is a good phrase for it! Yeah, I thought that taxi ride experience was pretty interesting – he was so cool, though, so I actually gave him props (in my head) for overcharging us since he knew he had us cornered and our options were limited!

    • Haha, I can see how it might not be acceptable in some areas, but like swap meets or something, I think it’s fair game. All they can say is no, even if you get a dirty look from it.

  4. I always try to haggle when I’m traveling (and when I’m not). I used to be a little timid, but not anymore. Now I’m not afraid to ask for discounts or special offers, those dollars add up and the worst I can get is a “no”.

    • I’m the same way – I probably wouldn’t have ten years ago, but I think I developed thick skin this past decade. I like your thought about it all adding up – it certainly does!

  5. I always want to respect the local economy. I once got in an argument with a taxi driver in Rio in very bad Portuguese. I thought he was scamming us, but it was actually my bad. It’s important to know when you are right, what are your limits and knowing the language helps!

    • I agree that respect is key – I’m not mean about it, but I don’t really see the harm in asking for asking’s sake. I agree about learning the language, rather than just assuming everyone speaks English (I cringe when people speak English in a foreign country but speak louder, as if people will understand then).

  6. I agree, they do hike up prices for tourists and it is only reasonable to haggle. I always do this while travelling if I think I am being taken advantage of just because I’m a tourist. I don’t tend to haggle in London much, I would normally jokingly ask for a discount from a taxi driver if I have to use a taxi, and I normally do get a few £ off 😛 But that’s about it, I guess.

    • Hey, a few pounds off is a win in my book! Do they not have meters in cabs there (they do in the U.S.), or the driver would just skim off the top anyway? Regardless, I think that’s awesome!

  7. Interesting stories. I imagine people who are trying to sell trinkets to tourists are going for profit margins of about 95%, so slimming that down a little isn’t a big deal. It sounds like you were respectful, and that’s really the most important thing when dealing with other cultures. I wish I could haggle for taxis in Chicago…

    • Yeah, I agree that respect is key – when people’s tones get aggressive, that’s when I cringe. Haha, I know right – I always get nervous taking a cab in SD since the little ticker adds up quickly! Luckily it’s pretty rare we take it.

    • Haha, yeah, it was hard to get mad at him because he was totally nice and gave us history of the places we were going. It was kind of like the cool uncle type, so I didn’t harbor resentment from the experience. 🙂

    • Agreed, and great article! I guess in the first scenario, I did it for the “game” of it, though I suppose maybe I shouldn’t have since it’s only a dollar… oops!

  8. A lot of times for cabs and tour guides, you have to negotiate because they will take advantage of you as a tourist. That I will haggle to get a fair price. Actually a cab driver in a foreign country really scammed me…first he overcharged me, then he kept saying the bills I gave him were ripped so I would give him a different one (It turned out he gave me counterfeit bills). I actually was somewhat annoyed at the tourists who were playing hardball in the negotiations (depending on the situation).
    But when I see honest looking folks and impoverished gaunt little kids trying to sell some souvenirs for let’s say $5 USD and the tourists were trying to get them down to $4 USD…I kinda shake my head. It’s one freaking dollar…just give it to the kid…relax, even if you overpay by one measley dollar, it is no big deal. $1 is a much bigger deal to the impoverished kid.

    • Oh no, that sucks about the counterfeit bills! How did you find out they were counterfeit (well, I guess after the fact when you tried to pay for other items at other stores?). Hopefully that wasn’t too much that you had to absorb. Yeah, kids are where I draw the line, especially young ones.

  9. Yea, exactly. I used it to pay and they gave me a dirty look and said I was using counterfeit money. After a closer look and feel, I could tell it was fake…but I didn’t expect that to happen. I know cabbies often try to overcharge, but this was a new low.

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