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He works hard for the money………

December 10, 2009

When shopping in India, it is hard to really be sure what the right price to pay is. In open markets, haggling is the norm and prices almost always seem (more than) reasonable when you compare them to what the same item would cost in the U.S.

However the truth of the market is that some people are charged more money than others for the same product – especially when there are no price tags. So you have to be a little street smart. Whenever possible watch what the Indian before you pays for something. That is closer to the right price. And you can listen in on their haggling even if you don’t completely understand Hindi  – the prices are almost always quoted in English – at least the number part of the price.

Today I went to Dilli Haat – it is a fun place with lots of vendors from all over India. There are tons of merchants selling scarfs – so I asked a few what their prices were before I began buying and frankly, I saved myself quite a bit of money. Another good tip is that the “first customer of the day” is auspicious. It brings terrible luck to the merchant if he does not give the first customer of the day a good price. Apparently that is true of the last customer of the day also. Although I cannot verify that because I am never up late enough to be the last customer of the day.

It really always makes me laugh when the vendors say – “oh, but you are my first customer, I give you very good price.” Then I smile and chuckle a bit. And they assure me – “ma’am, no really, very first customer brings very good luck.”

It is quaint in a way and it is sincere. But it sounds so gimmicky. You do have to be careful not to laugh too hard because you can really hurt their feelings. Especially if the are not used to dealing with westerners.

Another tip – walk away. Just say no thank you and walk away. They almost always ask you to come back for a better price.

And just take out of your wallet what you are willing to pay. Have that in your hand and nothing else. That worked well for me today.

And know that nearly e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. here is handmade. Don’t be too woo’ed by that.

Finally, when you see someone working at their trade and you know their work is meticulous and their prices are no where near ridiculous – don’t haggle.  Just treasure their workmanship and value their time and appreciate the beauty of what they have created. Know that you are walking away with part of the artist’s art and soul. And know that you are lucky to have seen them in action.

This guy makes wooden stamps for block printing – a popular design technique for fabric. Notice how rudimentary his tools are – just a piece of wood and a carving tool all jockeyed on a bench he probably made himself. His medium-sized stamps were about $5 each. They must take him many, many hours to complete. This guy gets a “get out of haggling free” card. I simply cannot imagine how he can make a living when he is selling his art so inexpensively. Nevermind how he manages to get up off the floor after sitting like that all day.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2009 10:34 am

    Those stamps are amazing! I would most likely be the last customer of the day, but I could send my husband any time and he’d get the best price. Haggling is his favorite thing to do!

    • December 16, 2009 3:19 am

      he would love it here – how many times do I have to invite you over? still no bedazzled pigs though

  2. December 11, 2009 12:45 am

    Oh wow his stamps are amazing! There is no way I could sit like that all day…lately the sofa kills my back.

  3. December 10, 2009 3:56 pm

    Oh those stamp blocks are beautiful! I would love to have one or two myself. Just dreamy.

  4. Tottsmom permalink
    December 10, 2009 11:00 am

    Those are beautiful, and I too would not be willing to haggle over such works of art.

    • December 11, 2009 1:22 am

      And sometimes the vendors who come in from the villages are not used to dealing with expats/tourists so they don’t know to try to charge too much – it makes them all the more charming.

  5. December 10, 2009 10:32 am

    Hear, hear!

    I am so easily annoyed by the “first customer of the day” routine.

    Here lately, I pull the “I LIVE HERE … I am NOT visiting or a tourist” card and that seems to work. Last visit to Dilli Haat and the guy wouldn’t budge from Rs. 800 for a pair of punjabi shoes? When I pulled the “I LIVE HERE” statement, all of a sudden, the price dropped to Rs. 500. Followed shortly by Rs. 200 when that’s what I produced from my wallet.


    I’m not about being a cheap-skate, but don’t overcharge me because I’m a westerner!

    I’d pay asking price for those stamps though!

    • December 11, 2009 1:21 am

      The first customer of the day is lucky indeed – the trick is knowing what a good price really is – because a really high price knocked in half is still TOO MUCH!

  6. DENNY PRASETYO permalink
    December 10, 2009 4:37 am

    It’s not just in India, if you come to Indonesia, and see the traditional market, you’ll be surprised. Because bargaining is allowed and the first customers are called “penglaris”, if you decide for not buying from them, they think that they will get a bad luck for whole day. that’s why it’s good to hunt for nice merchandise early in the morning.

    • December 10, 2009 6:11 am

      Hi Denny and welcome – oh I apparently left one vendor “broken hearted” today but only because he was trying to “break my wallet” 😎

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