“Hello Miss. What kind of spices would you like? I’ll give you good price”
I keep walking.
“Excuse me. Miss! Please, have a look! Good price!”
Ahhh, the sounds of a sales man working the spice stalls in Zanzibar. A sound, not unique in itself to this area of the world as the sales pitch comes in many similar forms across all countries. It was a friendly, yet persistent proposal from the stall worker doing his best to make huge margins off of an unacquainted tourist.
Granted, those HUGE margins are still next to nothing compared to the margins that luxury brands in western society gets away with. Zanzibar’s economy is far from struggling compared to some other places in Africa but that comes with the tourism dollars which are flushed into the various upstanding resorts located around the island. Even still, the locals who are living “well” would easily have the privilege of filing for government assistance if they were making the same proportion of income in Canada .
Yes, government assistance would be a privlege.
If you have frequented a couple of foreign markets before, it can be easy to get into the mindset of bargaining as low as you can for items. No one likes to get ripped off. You just saw a local purchase the same item substantially cheaper. You play the game; why wouldn’t you?
You offer them anywhere between 50-75% lower than their asking price.
They look outraged that you would even suggest such a thing.
They counter offer, taking 5 dollars off.
You start to walk away acting equally outraged only to be chased after moments later hearing the cries of “Lady! Lady! Okay, okay. Come. I give you price”.
You cackle in the back of your mind because you know you have outsmarted them. You’ve successfully bargained them down to essentially getting next to nothing margins on these items, and they allowed it because that sale will mean they might not have to worry about how they are going to feed their kids tonight.
Bravo. You really got’em this time.
I witnessed a couple of encounters like this as I was walking through the market in Stone Town. I would love to say that my observations have made me objective to these scenarios so much so that I play fair in markets such as these, however everyone has those human moments of greed and unfortunately I succumbed to such desires in Stone Town that day.
While on a safari in Tanzania earlier the week, we had set our sights on this beautiful scarf that one of the lodge owners was wearing. After flooding her with compliments, she told us the type of scarf was called “Kikoy”, a very common item in souvenir shops around Africa. She reassured us that we would find some once we hit up the markets.
Much to our delight, they were everywhere in Stone Town! We started scoping out prices and designs on our way in, hoping to narrow it down and purchase our favorite picks on the way out. Upon returning to the cheapest stall, we told them we were back for the scarves and were ready to pay. Unfortunately, the sales guy we had dealt with had left and we had to negotiate down with another guy. We stated our case and whipped into serious bargainer mode. Our price was non-negotiable; we had already heard their best offer from the previous stall worker and would go to another stall if we had to pay a penny more.
The man folded the scarf up, placed it in a bag, and then passed it to me and said “I will remember this. I will remember what you just did”.
I had negotiated the price of a beautiful, unique, African scarf, down from $20US to $6US. I knew that the scarf was unique to Africa; I knew that if I had seen it on a rack in Winners at home I would probably spend $15 or more on it; and yet I bargained it down because part of me knew I could exploit these men and how much they needed the sale.
MAN! Am I a douche!
I knew that I was a backpacker on a budget, and that bargaining is very common in these types of markets. But seriously, I could have given in a little.
I truly hope this perspective can bring a bit of empathy to your own travel experiences in the future.
I don’t expect you to pay every obscene price that you are offered on items at these markets. Bargaining is fun and it certainly feels great to walk out of a purchase feeling like a champion with a bag full of goodies that you got for $20, but if you’re leaving that purchase with the thoughts of “Start the car! Start the car!” racing through your mind, chances are you got a great deal and chances are they didn’t.
As you see it, you may be a 22 year old “broke” backpacker, bargaining your way through this third world country, trying to buy “proof” that you were there to bring home and show family or friends.
As the stall worker sees it, you’re a 22 year old, who has spent more money on travelling to this side of the world than what he would make in a year, maybe even two or three years; you have the privilege of hopping on an airplane and seeing new parts of the world while stepping on a plane would never be a realistic dream for him; and you’ll promptly be going home to the agony of your #firstworldproblems within a few days.
Think about it. Who’s ripping who off?