To Haggle or Not To Haggle
Picture this: You’re in an unnamed Asian country, buying food from a street vendor. The vendor quotes you a price which, compared to the price you’d pay for food back at home, is incredibly cheap. But you also know that the price he has quoted you is the “tourist price”, a figure that is much higher than the price he charges locals.
Do you try to haggle him down, or do you pay him the price he’s asking?
The Debate: Six bloggers go head to head
Craig Martin from the Indie Travel Podcast
Let me ask this: what currency have you been earning in? If you’ve been working in the local economy, you have every right to haggle your way down. But if you’ve been earning twice or thrice or fifty times
more than this vendor, it’s time to wake up and smell the durian, Mr Larusso.
International corporations have vested interests in ensuring we all get paid just enough to keep us productive and keep us from revolting. They’ve been especially efficient in the so-called developing markets, keeping prices conveniently low for tourists like ourselves.
But who am I to keep the inequality in place? To complain about an extra eighty cents? I’m not actively working to “seek justice and encourage the oppressed” but I can afford to pay a little extra for my street food. With minimum wages in Vietnam estimated at US$57 a month compared with average working wages of $18 an hour for American or British employees, I have no grounds for grandstanding.
This food is fresh, delicious and “incredibly cheap”. Pay your extra eighty cents and enjoy it along with your market capitalism.
Melanie from Intrepid101
Sure, you have a college degree and they have three teeth. Someone in the transaction has the upper hand. It isn’t you, my friend.
Do you want to engage with real local people and leave your antiseptic double plastic-wrapped lifestyle behind? If you are an intrepid adventurer, not a sunburned-pink tour bus tourist yearning for their next Big Mac, haggle.
“But it is so cheap anyway. . .” Haggling over a purchase isn’t just about the money. Living life differently for a few days or weeks and stepping outside of the typical Western experience are why we travel. We aren’t drawn to third-world countries by the promise of diarrhea and squatting over pit toilets.
Worried that you will beat the price down so far the vendor loses money? You’ll be haggling with a vendor who has a lifetime of experience in the art and who knows his or her costs to the nth degree. Sure, you have a college degree and they have three teeth. Someone in the transaction has the upper hand. It isn’t you, my friend.
“But everyone here is so poor. . .” If you feel guilty, haggle for the experience, then pay the full asking price. The astounded locals won’t complain about that kind of eccentricity. Or consider donating the money you saved haggling on your whole trip to a local charity.
Remember, haggling is a local sport where everyone wins. Be intrepid and happy haggling!
Ben Hancock from The Daily Transit
Whether or not to haggle has been a question I’ve wrangled with since I first came to South Korea in 2004. I was told by friends from the time I arrived that bargaining down at street markets is the norm, not the exception. Having a decent command of the language, I’ve tried my hand at haggling (mostly for goods but sometimes for food) and succeeded a few times. I’ve also been over-charged and let it slide because, when it came down to it, I would’ve be squabbling over what barely amounted to a few dollars–and made myself look like a heel in the process.
And therein lies my reasoning behind (primarily) choosing not to haggle. Unless you’re scraping or have no access to further cash, there’s rarely a legitimate reason for travelers whose bank accounts are stacked with strong currency to demand they get the same price as locals. Providing you’re not getting wildly ripped off, just count on spending a bit more won, yuan or baht if simply because you can afford it and these people have ends to meet. Keep in mind that the average workers in most non-Western societies are still getting by on comparatively little. Paying a bit more on occasion is just part of the cost of travel.
Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere
Unless you’re scraping or have no access to further cash, there’s rarely a legitimate reason for travelers whose bank accounts are stacked with strong currency to demand they get the same price as locals.
A price is what a willing buyer will pay to a willing seller. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no “correct” or “right” price, or for that matter a “fair” price.
The only reason I can think of for not trying to negotiate a lower price is guilt. That somehow you, as a Westerner, feel bad about asking for a lower price from someone in a poorer country. The higher price you pay is usually a guilt tax. Local merchants take advantage of guilt and ignorance of tourists to charge more. I don’t blame merchants for trying to make a buck, but at the same time, there is no reason why you should have to pay more than you need to.
I have yet to meet anyone who had their feelings hurt during haggling. If anything, they will respect you more for playing the game well.
There is certainly a point at which haggling isn’t worth the effort. Spending 10 minutes to reduce the price an additional $0.25 probably isn’t worth it. Spending 10 min to reduce the price of something by $2.50 might be. Usually haggling can go much quicker. I am typing this in Dubai. The hotel I’m staying at was willing to drop the price by 1/3 seconds after telling them it was too expensive and I was going elsewhere. I’m sure I could have gotten it even cheaper had I tried.
There is nothing wrong with haggling. It is the way the world works.
So you are a local expert who knows the lives of the people you are interacting with? You know how much their sales to you are impacting their livelihood? You have read, oh so briefly from your travel guide (on the flight in) that it is OK to haggle. You know that haggling is an acceptable part of their culture? (The Life of Brian is no authority on the requirement to haggle!) You are an authority on the impact your trade has on their emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing? Of course you are, you culturally literate yet itinerant traveller, steeped in the finer nuances of this foreign culture you are quickly passing through. So go ahead and haggle. Then test your motivation. Did you come away congratulating yourself that you had put it over the wiley old stall holder (whose whole wardrobe costs less than your fancy boots) and gotten a bargain. Do you recommend to your fellow travellers to visit the third stall on the right on such and such a lane because the locals are a “haggle push over?” Yup, you crafty, travel and worldly wise traveller, of course you do. It’s how you gain your travel spurs and your blog is all the more lively for it. Now, tell me how many local friends you have. But then, you probably are not looking for any.
Dave from The Longest Way Home
Haggle like a local, not just in Asia but the world over. It’s not just a financial thing, it can’t be. Take an Asian street vendors average bbq stick of ‘unknown’ meat. For a local it costs $0.05. From me he wants $0.50. I laugh at him as if he was having a joke. Being a seasoned traveller I should have already asked a local how much the bbq stick is before approaching and have gotten the real price first.
If I pay you the upmarket ‘Tourist’ price, then you will do it to others, setting a bad example. The mark up is huge, if I pay it, I will be drawing a lot of ‘bad’ attention to myself. I’ve seen certain ‘rich’ tourists not care about price, it makes them out to look stupid. As travellers we are roaming ambassadors to our countries – no wonder some have a bad rap.
Asia is a developing region, and other Asians are travelling more and more between their own countries so it’s not just a western thing. Haggling in Asia is a part of life for everyone; we as travellers are passing guests that can, and should enter into this great custom.
Do you haggle? Why, or why not? Share your views in the comments below, or write about it on your own blog.
If you do post about it on your own blog, or send me an email and I’ll link out to your response from here.
Here’s what bloggers have written about the topic:
- To haggle or not to haggle on Cool Travel Guide by Lara Dunston.
- To haggle or not to haggle by Jamie Sinz.