The Fine Art of Negotiating
Everywhere you go in Guatemala, you’ll be presented with opportunities to buy things. From the child vendors who run up with handfuls of colorful bracelets to the grandmothers sitting in the market with their fresh fruit and vegetables, there’s no shortage of places to spend your money. It’s essential, however, that you learn the art of negotiating.
Negotiating, haggling, bargaining, these are all words for a back and forth play that is expected everywhere but retail stores in this beautiful country. Never accept the first price you’re given . . . it’s always going to be high, in anticipation of the wheeling and dealing.
You’ll hear many people talk about getting “the gringo price” in the market and this can be very true, but in many cases, the price is high because the person simply didn’t know how to negotiate effectively. If you’re not from a country where bargaining is normal, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the concept and you might feel guilty trying to get the price down. After all, what does it matter if you get that $1 bracelet for 75 cents?
Why You Should Negotiate Prices
Negotiating is part of the culture in Guatemala and you’d be missing out on a major experience if you simply pay what is asked. You’ll quickly find that it’s a fun way to interact with the locals and can become quite addicting!
Second, if you dislike being taken advantage of, the ability to negotiate is vital. Most vendors, particularly in touristy areas like Antigua or Panajachel, will charge exorbitant rates because they figure you have more money. While that may be true, it can sting when you find out that you paid five times the actual price of something.
Tips to Hone Your Haggling Skills
Now you know why you should haggle, it’s time to look at how to do it. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, keep in mind that the seller isn’t going to go so low that they will lose money. Don’t feel guilty about getting the price down, but don’t feel bad if you pay a little more than a guatemalteco might pay. Enjoy the experience for what it is, a fun way to dig a little deeper into the culture.
- Go in with a price in mind. What are you willing to pay for that watercolor painting of the arch or the over-dyed bag? Starting with a price in mind will help you bargain. It can be helpful to check the prices for similar items in retail shops before you head to the market. This will give you an upper limit to your price and anything below that is a win!
- Know your numbers. You don’t necessarily have to speak much Spanish to haggle over a purchase, but you should definitely have a grasp of the numbers. When in doubt, get the vendor to write down their offer. This will eliminate mistakes and possible misunderstandings.
- Ask for bulk prices. If you know that you want more than one of something, let the vendor know and offer a decent price for the items in bulk. They’ll usually counter, but you’ll often get a better price in the end.
- Start lower than you intend to pay. Never tell the vendor the price you are actually willing to pay. Instead, if you want to pay Q30 for an item that the person is offering for Q50, you can say you’ll pay Q25. They’ll return with Q40 and you can then offer Q30. Starting lower than you intend to pay gives you some wiggle room.
- Shop around, but commit once you haggle to your price. Getting prices from various vendors is a good idea, but if you take the time to get the price down to what you want to pay, be prepared to buy. It’s rude to lower the price and take up the vendor’s time and then walk away with out the item.
- When in doubt, walk away. The final technique, if you aren’t sure you’re getting a good price or if the vendor won’t drop to your chosen amount, is to simply thank them and walk away. If your price is fair, you’ll almost always hear them call you back and let you have the item for that price. Otherwise, you were probably going a little too low. Take a stroll and come back if you are willing to pay the higher amount.
- Shop early in the morning. The first sale of the day is a lucky sale for vendors in Guatemala, particularly those who sell artisan items. By arriving early, just after the shops open, you may get a better deal simply because they want to set a good start to the day.
- Shop later in the afternoon. Alternatively, if you are looking to buy vegetables or fruit, head to the market a little later in the day. Vendors will want to get rid of their wares before they head home and are often willing to let things go for a lower price.
- Take a Guatemalan with you. A local will not only know what prices are fair, but will have no issue with haggling the seller down to the lowest possible price. Make some friends and bring one along when you go shopping!
The art of negotiating is part and parcel of traveling in Guatemala. While it may take you a little while to get used to the idea of not paying what you’re told the price is, it quickly becomes an exciting adventure to see just how well you can manage the process.
Have you tried bargaining in the market before? How did it go for you?