“Just channel your mother”
Haggling is an integral part of Tanzanian culture, so when someone gives you a price, you are EXPECTED to beat them down to something you can both agree on. That goes for Tanzanians and wazungu (foreigners) alike. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the latter demographic is not always in the know of this social norm, so now many vendors capitalize on this ignorance and quote ridiculously high starting prices. That is exactly why we had a Maasai man buy the goat for us last month for a Maasai wedding gift which would have cost us about four times the amount he managed to pay. In their eyes, mzungu = money, which relatively speaking is probably true, so gouging foreigners with outrageous prices seems fair enough, I suppose. But these guys don’t know that this mzungu (thumbs to chest) is the proud daughter of a Bargain Queen.
While running some errands around town a couple of weeks ago, I was on a mission to procure a pair of sunglasses. We rounded the corner of one of the busiest tourist areas and as we approached the hoards of street-side vendors, awaiting the onslaught of sales pitches, Brian muttered to me, “Just channel your mother.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know my mother, she is tremendously skilled in the art of haggling. In fact, it’s her job as an antique dealer. She knows not only what it takes to get a price you are happy to buy or sell for, but also the often forgotten nuances of etiquette that are involved with this ancient and delicate marketplace interaction. (She even wrote an enlightening article about just that, and if I can dig it up, I’ll be sure to share it with you all.) That being said, although haggling is normal here n Tanzania, I’m not so sure the “etiquette” part of it is. So, if you have a counteroffer in mind that might seem insultingly low in the states, here, you might as well blurt it out because it probably won’t result in hard feelings, just more haggling.
Back to the story… we paused at a small sidewalk collection of sunglasses where the seller immediately and warmly greeted us, “Ah, rafiki!” (friend), so I bent down and began to try out some of his wares. I must have one of those perfectly shaped heads, because he seemed to love every pair I tried on and murmured comments like “Nice, Ray Ban” and “Very beautiful!” Okay kaka (brother), your help is nice and all, but I know what I’m looking for: a cheap pair of sun specs that I can lose or break without feeling bad. And just so you know, my mother is with me in spirit.
So the time came for me to ask the price.
“Shilingi ngapi kwa moja?” (How many shillings for one?)
“Elfu thelathini na tano.” (35,000 TSH [~$22])
You’re telling me these slightly used, Made-in-China sunglasses are $22? Um, nice try pal. I just let out an incredulous and slightly amused, “Ha!”
At this point, I brought out the big guns, admittedly a bit prematurely: I told him that last time I had paid 6,000 TSH (which was almost true) and that THAT was my “bei mwisho” (my last price).
Then it was his turn to look incredulous.
“Nope. Hii ni bei gali sana!” (Nope. This is a very expensive price!)
Anyway, this exhausting back and forth went on for a while and eventually, after feeling fed up with his annoyingly SLOW decline in price, I told him, “It’s okay, ninaweza kwenda mahali nyngine” (It’s okay, I can go somewhere else), and we took our leave, simultaneously refusing his now 12,000 TSH offer.
So, we walked on, me feeling a little disappointed that I was still without sunglasses, but not too bad because at least I wasn’t a sucker, dammit. Oh well. SIDENOTE: It’s crazy, once you show even the slightest interest in something that someone is offering, you are bound to end up in an utterly exhausting interaction like that one; so for those days when you just don’t have the strength, being an asshole seems to be your best option.
We were about half-way down the street when I discovered that the walk-away method is evidently a good one. In just a few moments, we heard behind us, “Rafiki, rafiki! Okay, elfu sita.” So that’s what I paid for my new shades: 6,000 TSH, my first and last price.
It’s probably still more than I would have paid under normal circumstances, but it’s the few small scores like the one that day that make me so thankful to have the haggling mentor that I do. Thanks mom.