Being English through and through (apart from a bit of Welsh inherited from one of my grandfathers), the idea/concept of bartering is totally alien.
So, in September last year, I ventured to Kenya. I was chaperoned by a friend whilst in Nairobi and was amazed that he never paid the asking price for anything without an argument.
I watched, listened and learned, but didn’t participate.
On my second visit, in March of this year, I was on my own a lot more. My first task was to change some sterling into the local currency. In the bank, the girl behind the counter offered me a rate, let’s say 128 shillings to the pound.
“What?” I exclaimed. “I could have got 136 in England. How about 134?”
“I cannot go that high. 130, “says the girl.
“132,” I counter. She goes to see the manager and come back with a broad smile. “Yes, Sir, we give you 132.”
Wow! Try that in a high street bank over here.
I got on the shuttle to Kisii.
“How much?” I asked.
“I paid 600 that last time.”
“OK, 600 bob.”
In Kisii, staying in a house without electricity and a loo at the other end of the plot, I thought a torch would be advantageous. I found a rechargeable LED model on a hawker’s stand.
“This wonderful torch, sir, it is only 300 bob.”
“You are joking?” I retorted. “I’m not a tourist. I’ll give you 250.”
“Sir, you are taking the food from my daughter’s mouth.” But as I turned to go, “OK, 250 bob.”
At the house, my hostess was so taken by the torch, the next time I was in town, I decided to get another. It was a different hawker. He saw me coming from a long way off – not difficult as I was probably the only mzungu in town.
I glanced at his wares, safety pins, shaving mirrors, tweezers – and a similar LED torch.
“Mambo.” (A sort of slang ‘Hello’) “How much?” I point at the torch.
“Ah, for you, sir, only 350 bob.”
I went through the ‘I’m not a tourist’ routine again and paid 260/-. It was a better torch, having 6 LEDs instead of the 5 of the previous one.
I am learning. Never pay the asking price for anything if the price is not marked on it. Of course, in the supermarket, it doesn’t work, nor in cafés where the menu is marked with prices.
But if you are buying from a market, or a hawker, haggle. You will save a small fortune – or rather, you are less likely to get ripped off. If you are offering too low a price, they won’t sell, so they aren’t losing – you are not taking the food from his daughter’s mouth, believe me.
Oh, and learn a few different ways of saying hello. “Jambo” is used by everyone, native and tourist alike, but to make an impression, try something different.