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The Art of Haggling

You’ve found the cheapest flights. Booked the budget bed. Google Mapped the best value munch. So that’s it, you’re a bona fide Budgeteer, defending your bottom dollar as you duck under foreign borders. But can you haggle?

The term “haggle” comes from hoggva, which is Old Norse for “chop”. It sounds terribly brutal, but ask any hardened traveller and they’ll tell you it’s an art. Like ballet.

Unlike ballet, haggling is an integral and accepted part of most cultures. And let’s face it, as a visitor feeling your way through a new destination, it can be a great way to reveal the signals and body signals, which make a country’s people tick.

Those knowing nods, winks and smiles. The level of eye contact. The intensity and respect of eking out a deal. You learn the lines, of where to cross, or hold, or retreat. Through a market seller’s eyes, it’s possible to feel his country’s heart.

Going for broke ...

image courtesy of t3rmin4t0r

So here we go, chop chop, let’s get you clued up on the wondrous ways of the haggler, and best of all… save you some money!

Top 10 Haggling Tips


  1. Do your research
    Swagger into the Haggle Arena blind, and you’ll take a few unexpected blows. That’s all I’m saying. If you know what you want, then spend a moment to discover what you want to pay for it.
  2. Haggle o’clock
    Contrary to common belief, the perfect time to haggle is not with a back-up crew of forty friends. Keep it discrete; the fewer people who witness a seller drop their price the better. If you’re bartering for perishables, such as fruit, head to the stalls towards the end of the day.
  3. Set a (secret) limit
    Pick a price, any price. Don’t let me see it. Now, is it £30? No. Maybe £88? Nope. £2.50? You’ll soon reap the benefits of keeping your cards close to your chest; revealing your hand too early is akin to dripping honey on a bear’s beak. They won’t let go.
  4. Talk. Smile. Talk
    Have you ever tried smiling and talking at the same time? It’s a curiously happy-happy-la-la experience. Your horns retract, your fangs retreat, and your eyes become veritable rounds of happiness. Take this tactic to the trade-off, and avoid being banished for bad vibes.
  5. Own the silence
    You talk. They talk. You talk. They go silent. “Ohmigod! He hates me! He’s thinking I’m an awful person and he’s going to tell my mum! I’m sorry… here, take my money. Take all of it!” Woah. Woah. Woah. Hold back, soldier, don’t be tempted into No Man’s Land. Own the silence.
  6. Patience. Confidence.
    Be the deal, be the deal. I’m not saying you should eyeball your reflection and beat your chest before storming down to the market. But, have a little word with yourself. Be confident, and take your time. You’re not brokering world peace, you’re probably buying a rug.
  7. Power up!
    Don’t be downbeat when your pleas for a saving falls on deaf ears. It could well be, that the kind-faced trader has had his margins cut so low that he’d be committing commercial kamikaze by selling at that price. Change tactic: how about if you bought two; or even three?
  8. Keep control
    The most successful dealers are so fast thinking that you’ll be tripping over your tongue before you’ve even considered the exchange rate. Blink, and you’ll be swept into a figure-of-four times the price you wanted to pay. Stay in control.
  9. Be prepared for “No!”
    When all is said and done, the entire showdown will come down to one of two of the world’s smallest words: yes, or no. You should be prepared to down the duel when it becomes clear that no, really does mean, no.
  10. Exit stage left
    On the flip side, perhaps you’ve changed your mind mid-gig? Have yourself an original excuse line, because believe me, the seller will have heard them all before and they will have well-rehearsed answers to them all. Be courteous, and swift.

And one for the road: discretion. While both may have downed shields, you’ve just completed a deal which is indubitably tailored to your individual wants and desires. Now, I’m not your boss, but to puff your chest out and punch the air with a roar would be considered pretty bad form in most countries.

Just a simple shaking of hands — or the local equivalent — will suffice.

Do you feel empowered by this run down of the ancient art of haggling? What more would you like to add?

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Showing 16 Comments

  1. Bob Beacham

    Thanks for these tips, but I don’t want to haggle! I want a take it or leave it price for the product. This is one of the places where the cultures of east and west clash, seemingly irresolubly. I often don’t buy stuff abroad because I can’t be bothered with the hassle of haggling. I find the whole process demeaning (to both of us).

    An example: I wanted to buy a made-to-measure suit in The East. Having previously undergone a haggling process, I went into one tailors and effecively said this: ‘I’m a Brit. We don’t haggle. I don’t want to haggle. Please will you give me a take-it-or leave-it price for what I want. I promise that I will not try to haggle down on the price’. I was given the price, I said that I would go away and think about it. As I was walking down the pavement, the same bloke came after me on his moped saying, ‘Sorry, boss, I can do it for less than that’ !! It’s hopeless. Haggling it seems is ingrained in their culture, and, as far as I’m concerned, take-it-or-leave-it is ingrained in mine. Why should I change? You may say I should change because it’s their culture I’m in. But it’s them that wants to sell the stuff! And to take that particular argument to its logical conclusion, I’d also have to take on board all the corruption that is endemic in most of these cultures. Western businessmen have been prosecuted for doing exactly that!!
    What do you reckon? Good and interesting piece, anyway.

    2257 days ago
  2. Tony T

    Bob – though haggling can be a hassel – the reason you should change is because you’re buying on their turf.

    It’s the whole ‘when in Rome…’ thing.

    Visitors should conform to the host country’s culture. You say it’s ‘them that wants to sell’ – but it’s you who wants to buy.

    A foreign visitor coming to the UK and trying to haggle in Tescos isn’t going to get anywhere. Likewise, a Westerner abroad is expected to haggle.

    Get with the programme: haggle.

    Tony T

    2257 days ago
  3. Sarah M

    Beacham – You spoil all the fun. If you wan’t a take it or leave it price use the internet for that and stay at home (even though I haggle over the net!). The thrill of haggling is everywhere. I haggle every day, in my job, my food bill everything. When money is close to the edge haggling is what keeps some people afloat. I love haggling! As long as you don’t push til you’re just taking advantage you get a buzz and they leave with a profit. Win Win situation! As for selling stuff with price drops, sales calls do exactly that all day. In sales you say a price, you drop it when the customer is indecisive. Simples!

    2257 days ago
  4. Alex

    I think a lot of people have this idea in their head that when they haggle in somewhere, in Thailand for example, that they should be getting a dirt cheap price for something, often a price a lot less than the item is worth (and then wonder why they dont get it). But this is not the case as these people are making their entire livings from this and can’t give out bargain after bargain, otherwise they’d be broke!
    So following from that my advice would be to look at what your buying and think how much it’s actually worth and then barter for that price and you’ll find when you go for reasonable prices for their stuff, they’ll be a lot more likely to give you a good deal!

    Tried and tested, it works!

    2257 days ago
  5. Laxmi

    Haggling can win you a lot of respect from the locals if you do it how the locals do it. Being firm but very respectful and polite can make them very impressed with you as a tourist. I’ve even ended up in giggles with airport taxi drivers in Marrakesh, haggling in french wearing the opposite sex’s gelaba, they thought i was hilarious and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Mind you they hardly dropped the price.
    The important thing is to know when you’re going too far. STOP when seller looks uncomfortable and like you’re disrespecting them. One thing is to experience the local haggling culture and to buy something for a correct price instead of the MUCH higher price they charge tourists, but another is to disrespect someone much less fortunate than you and to squeeze the last penny out of someone who is struggling to feed a family. I’ve seen tourists reducing sellers to tears, that is unacceptable as a tourist visiting someone else’s country!

    2257 days ago
  6. Laxmi

    Also recommended is to try the flirting haggle! lots of fun! :) (be very careful with this one though! don’t attract unwanted attention)

    2257 days ago
  7. I spent 5 months in Africa and became a seasoned haggler in no time! I found what worked best, at the start of my time there especially, was to ask a local standing nearby “How much does a …. cost?” or for transport especially, “How much does it cost to get to….?” and 90% of the time the locals are eager to help and will be honest. That way, you don’t walk into a situation thinking you’re getting a great deal when in reality you’re getting charged 2 or 3 times the realistic price.

    I also was lucky enough to pick up the local language fairly quickly and when asking for a price in English and receiving an extortionate response, I would reply in their language “No sir(or madam), you can’t cheat me – I’m not a tourist! How much for a local man?” and, coupled with surprise and ripples of laughter, I would usually receive a good price!

    2256 days ago
  8. Louise Ludgate

    I’m loving the look of the aussie rules football . Would be amazing to go and visit my family out there .


    2255 days ago
  9. I love this post.

    I’m going to try this in Walmart in the USA. Really get ‘em! :)

    I like this art. I’m not trying to take their life savings away, just have a little fun. Make a connection.
    Businessman to businessman.
    Mono e mono.

    Rock it Ant!

    2254 days ago
    • Thanks Benjamin. Let me know how you get on in Walmart!

      2252 days ago
    • Good to see a tlnaet at work. I can’t match that.

      2244 days ago
  10. I dugg some of you post as I cogitated they were very useful invaluable

    2246 days ago
  11. What liberating knolwegde. Give me liberty or give me death.

    2244 days ago
  12. Richard D

    Have to say, I agree with Bob Beacham above.
    In Britain, I walk into a shop to buy, (say), a belt. There are 10 different price belts and I decide which one represents the best value – and I buy it.
    With haggling, there are no prices. There are just lots of belts. So I ask how much “that” one is and I am told £10. I say, “That’s more than the UK”, so he says “well this one is only £6″, which is better, but the belt is rubbish. Unless I spend 3 hours haggling on all 10 belts, so I am now in the same situation as I would be in the UK, I either get one that I don’t want, or I pay too much for it. So I just give up and leave. And they lose the sale. I agree that when someone says, “Give me your best price – I refuse to haggle”, they should accept that they will lose the sale unless they play ball.

    2238 days ago
    • Fair points, Richard. How do you fair when you use the straight-up, “What’s your best price?” tactic?

      2236 days ago
  13. Rosmarie Skinnen

    There is visibly a lot to realize about this. I think you made some nice points in features also.

    2174 days ago