Apr 28 2011

How Good Were Your Bargains?





Flight Centre’s guest blogger Nimmity Zappert shares some interesting points on haggling, bartering or getting the price down when shopping in developing countries. Call it what you will, but do you think about ethical considerations while you are scoring the bargain of your life? And how do you know if you are actually scoring a bargain?

“Very good. Will last a long time,” the old Thai woman said as she gently pat my arm. I had just bought a beautiful hand woven skirt for AUD$20. It had taken the lady five days to make. Was this a Good transaction?

Bangkok Floating Markets

This is a question that troubles many of us when we travel. We want to support the local economy and buy locally made items. But how do we know what is a good deal for the people that made these beautiful things? And what if they are selling things that they have not made themselves? Is that important? They are trying to make a living after all.

Few of us have in-exhaustive funds. I know that I am always travelling on a budget. With the current strength of the Australian dollar budget travellers are rejoicing and overseas shopping is looking better than ever. The question is, is it still ok to haggle? If I haggle am I literally taking food from children’s mouths by beating down the price? By offering the vendor too much, will it come across as charity, and not a fair price for their craft?

“It’s about respect and not charity”, says Natalie Armstrong, of Global Heart Australia. Natalie is an expert in ethical trade, and has spent a lot of time working and travelling in developing countries. “I like to gather a good idea of what I should pay by talking to other tourists and hearing about their experiences. I also get to know what a good local price is through friends from the country.”

Some good sound advice. By asking locals what is fair, you will usually get a price that is way over local prices, but below tourist prices – a fair price. Does this rule out haggling? “Tourist prices are made for bargaining, so bargaining is something I always do,” says Natalie, “I mostly buy knowing that what I am paying is greater than local prices, but knowing I have the money to do so without it affecting me, even on a traveller’s budget.”

My traveller’s budget was pretty tight on my last trip to Thailand. I am not someone who generally buys lots of things when I am travelling. If I buy something I want it to be quality and as authentic as possible. Authentic for me means that it is made by the people whoI am buying it from, or at least made in that part of the world. The skirt I bought was made by the women of the village of Pang Daeng, and exactly the same as the skirts they themselves were wearing. Their beautiful colours were dazzling against the deep green of the Thai hills.

I bought other things from the Hill Tribes of the villages we hiked through, some which were clearly made elsewhere and brought in for the tourists. I did haggle a little on those, but I don’t remember much about the process or the items which I bought as gifts for my family. When I look at the skirt I bought, the smiling faces of the villagers are instantly before me.

I guess that is the answer. When you look at your purchase, do you get a warm feeling and a good memory about the transaction? Or is it just another purchase to stash in the cupboard, or put on a shelf? I can rub my hands over that skirt and think of the hours spent making it, and the pride with which it was handed to me.

“Very good. Will last a long time.” It certainly will.

Contact Nimmity via Twitter.

Tags: Thailand

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