An introduction to haggling

In Europe I go to the shops and pay whatever the cash register tells me to pay. In South Africa however, I had to get used to haggling. Pay the full price for that awesome African statue on the market and you’ll be laughed at. Then you’re that dumb tourist. I am not very good at it myself, but it is fun to play the game nonetheless.

An afternoon at Green Market Square in Cape Town will get you going. Join the constant stream of tourists in search for the perfect souvenir. From all directions people will try to sell. “Touch it, feel it. What do you like? I give you nice price!” Just keep going until you’ve found what you are looking for. Then the game is on.

If you’re in Cape Town for a longer time, let the salesmen know. They’ll be interested to hear about you, where you live, where you are from and what you are doing here. Make it sound like this is an investment for you, something you want to take home but really can’t afford. A man selling paintings told me: “I really like you now you live in South Africa, but when you are back in your country, you are just another tourist.”

I am standing at a stall selling small sculptures and here they also claim to give me a ‘good price’. 50 Rand was the first bid. “Well…” I said, “I give you 30.” The sellers look at me like I am crazy, like I am robbing the woman. All part of the game. She drops her price to 45 Rand, however, a 5 Rand discount is not enough for me. She sees it in my face and says: “Ok, 40 Rand.” I slowly start walking away. Then I hear “35 Rand.” “Deal.” She’s happy, I’m happy.

Later I am in a little shop full of bracelets. They are quite pricey, but I’m there with a bunch of friends. Together we managed to get a 40% discount. The same shop had a painting of a zebra my friend really liked. A week before I’d bought three paintings from the same guy. At first he didn’t recognize me, but when I greeted him and looked him in the eye he said: “Hey, you are that girl!” I told him I’d brought my friends like I told him I would. Since I brought them as promised I asked for a discount. We went from 450 Rand to 350 Rand and ended up with 220 Rand.

I received a hug and we parted. My friend happy with her pretty painting and me, satisfied with the discount we managed to arrange. It is quite difficult to start the haggling for a Western girl like me. You feel like you are ripping people off because you have no clue what the item you’re after is really worth. In any case, you can be sure that the prices are higher because haggling is expected. Let’s just say practice makes perfect.

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