Tunisians, Turks, Egyptians, Moroccans, etc. are first and foremost big merchants. As we understand it, bargaining is an integral part of a trade. They perceive bargain as an outwitting game. Sometimes this can be great fun and an amusing way to know more about local habits.
This “How To” is partly a set of general rules that I follow while bargaining. However, it is not the intention to give a step by step guidance.
Later in the article is a more storytelling approach. We share personal experiences from many bargaining encounters in different Maghreb countries.
I have some rules that follow while bargaining and would like to lay out them now.
Rule 1: Always Be Polite and Respectful While Bargain
I am always polite and respectful to the sales personnel. Even if I have to decline something I do it politely and with a smile.
Try not to bring up negativities or any bad comments. I never say this is a crap product or the shop is a mess or something else. If we do not like something we know we can walk away at any time. We always do that with thank you and a smile.
Basically, I try to avoid any possibility of unpleasant situations or quarrels.
Rule 2: Is It Worth It Hustle To Bargain?
I do not bargain for something extremely cheap since doesn’t make sense to waste time and effort. We are all equal and all different, so please know your minimum bargaining amount.
Rule 3: Do The Homework Before Bargain
Go around other shops looking for similar items. Check the price of the items (or similar items) you want to buy. Do this especially, if the goods are really expensive and dear to your heart.
Rule 4: Know Your Stuff Buying And Bargaining For
If you want to buy a leather jacket then it is better that you know how to check the jacket if it is real leather or fake.
When I want to buy an expensive golden necklace better know how to make a difference between a kosher and a fake one.
Rule 5: Do Not Look At Your Watch While Bargain
Shopping in any country takes time. When you bargain in a Maghreb shop be sure that you will have spent some time.
On one occasion In Turkey (Side), the salesman was preparing me a coffee while we were bargaining. He did that in the exact coffee set that I bought later. I spent more than an hour in his shop and it was fun.
Rule 6: Do Not Show Your Cards Straight Away While Bargain
One approach is to ask around the shop for many goods just not to show which one is of your main interest. For example, I can be interested to buy a bag but I will ask for the price of a leather jacket, shirt, shoes, and a bag.
Later, you will focus on the item of interest and start the bargaining process.
Once I bargained for a set of pots. When we got the best price I just replaced one of the items with one another of better quality. The trick was to see how low I can go with the price on a lower-quality set. Later we just added a little bit more to get at the end the wanted goods.
Rule 7: Makeup Your Mind About The Right Bargain Price Beforehand
Before buying I like to be sure what is the ultimate price I am willing to pay for the goods or service.
An alternative is to adjust the best price during the bargaining process.
When you see that bargaining rounds slowed down and the price is not dropping much, this is a time to offer a slightly lower price than you are prepared to pay. The reason for the lower offer is to have room for negotiation. So, in the end, you can come to the desired price.
Rule 8: Try To Have The Exact Amount Of Money
I put different amounts of money in each department of my wallet. Thus I can take out the exact or approximate amount when the payment time comes.
If I give over the agreed amount there is most likely a chance that I will get some additional goods instead of the change.
Rule 9: Walk Away From Bargaining Is Always An Option
If I do not like the product I can walk away. If I do not like a shop I can walk away. If I do not like a salesperson I can walk away. However, I always do it respectfully and politely. (Remember rule number one).
Rule 10: Have Fun After All While Bargain
I try to bring as much fun as I can to the bargaining process. So it is entertaining without losing the focus on the ultimate goals either buy what you want for your fair price or just walk away with a smile and thanks.
There are many common themes to talk about while bargaining. For example, I was talking about football since this is a worldwide phenomenon.
Music is another subject if some music is playing in the shop. I remember once in Turkey (Alanya) there was music playing in the shop. We talked for a while and after some time he played a very popular song from the Eurovision song contest from Serbia.
After one long bargaining session, the salesman was wrapping my goods in old newspapers. While he was doing this he was saying “Mafia, mafia….” just as an expression that he gave me a really good price and I robbed him cutting his commission. At the same time, he was biting both his hands in the chest like a drummer. This was funny for me.
However, I am sure that was just a performance and the salesman got a good commission after all.
How Salesman Hustle Tourists?
For example, Tunisians have many ways to attract and retain customers in their stores and persuade them to buy something from them at very “affordable prices” as they like to say: “Good price, my friend”.
My impression is that they can be, in a way, a bit insulted if you accept the first offered price since this will cut off their joy of bargaining.
Here are a few approaches they use:
If we are in a group, they listen to our mutual communication as we pass by the shop. The salesmen try to figure out which language we are speaking among ourselves.
Often they guess correctly that our mother tongue is some Slavic language. However, often it can be confused with Polish, Czech, Russian, or some other Slavic language. If we take into account the fact that Arabic is very different from European languages, then misrecognition is understandable.
Finally, when they figure out that we are coming from Serbia, they try to gain sympathy with a few funny pre-learned sentences in Serbian. Usually, an invitation to stop by the store for a just “quick look” follows.
One salesman in Sousse was inventive, and he would ask us in Serbian how much “maraka” costs something in Serbia.
The “Maraka” part he mumbled so no one could understand it. Of course mumbled word “maraka” has no meaning, so tourists’ normal reaction would be to make an awkward facial impression and respond with “What?”
Finally, his ingenuity comes on the scene because he invites you to enter the store to show you what “maraka” is.
It is not always a hustle
In Egypt once, I was confused by the salesman’s nagging to come to his shop and talk to him every day when we passed by.
Surprisingly enough, he did not want to sell anything to me. He was just wondering if he would be accepted by the parents of one lady from Slovenia that he met just in case he relocates there to be with her.
I connected the dots since I was one of his approaches and mentioned that I have lived in Slovenia among the other countries.
If any approach is attractive enough for you to enter a shop then a salesman can soften you more with some small gift for free. Once during a long bargain, we were invited for a cup of the mint tee that was very refreshing.
The prices usually start from astronomical figures, but the shop owner quickly starts asking less and less. The excuse for high starting prices he explains the first price as a “capitalist” price.
I do not know how the shop owners deal with the tourists coming from countries with good economies.
After a few price reductions, the seller starts honestly asking how much you offer to buy products, and then they can add a story in style only tonight is this price because the seller needs money for something.
In my opinion, one should never state the price prepared to pay, or at least not until the almost end of the bargaining process. Eventually, you will come to your price level, or you could leave the shop if not getting it.
Bargaining For Leather Jacket
For example, I was interested in a leather jacket, and the starting price was 650 Euros. Of course, after a few quick sentences and negotiation rounds, I got the explanation that this is a “capitalist” price.
The bidding was less and less by the shop owner with several attempts to convince me that the jacket is of good quality. Usually, they use a lighter trying to burn the leather that was quality assurance, some of the kind.
Finally, after some time, I lowered the price to 100 euros. In the end, I did not buy the jacket.
Bargaining For A Leather Bag
On another occasion, I went with an acquaintance to buy a camel leather bag for her. The starting price was 100 euros. Very quickly, the seller lowered the price several times.
Along the bargaining process, he gave us some keychains for free to show how good he was to his customers. After a few minutes, we offered him a price that a companion was willing to pay, which was 20 euros, and we kept that price until the end and finally bought a bag for the exact amount.
Now, when you have agreed on the price, you might think this is the end of bargaining. Well, no. Make sure that sellers have a few cards on their sleeves. Here are a few examples from my personal experience to be aware of.
Sometimes a seller can be “confused” and offer you some other goods for an agreed price and not the one you bargained for just a moment ago.
Another example is possible “misunderstanding”, and you suddenly get one item instead of two although you bargained for two.
So the best approach is while you are bargaining you are examining the product you want to buy. If that is the one you like you to hold it, agree on the price, exchange the money, and keep the product in your hands.
I am not saying that shop owners are crucks and want to trick naive tourists although, in reality, this is happening. Life in Maghreb countries is different and they are hard-working people who spent long hours in the shops.
Joy Of Coffee Set
I bought a coffee set in Turkey, two cups, and a pot.
I call this coffee set Pasha and ask my lovely wife to make me Turkish coffee to drink slowly with enjoyment. This way of drinking coffee is called in Serbian “merak”.
Finally, I am looking forward to my future visits to the Maghreb where this barging shopping is a custom.
We wish you epic bargaining & trip to Maghreb countries!