Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Haggling With the Natives


Though many people wouldn't enjoy it, one of my favorite things to do when in the Philippines is to haggle with the natives or in plain English, to negotiate prices of a purchase. In the Philippines, almost everything is negotiable price wise, which works out great since almost every price automatically goes up when a Caucasian enters the scene. At best, a Caucasian can only hope to get them back to the original price while a native could get them to go lower but I harbor no sour grapes over this. It is a deal for me and a deal for them. Everybody wins.

During my last trip to the Philippines, I wanted to get a large hand carved wooden statue of a native Filipino playing a flute while crouching on a stump with a dog and a recently slain deer lying at his feet. The statue stood three feet in height and probably took the carver several weeks to carve. It was almost glass smooth and finished in an ebony stain and would easily be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the market over here. There in the tiny woodcarvers shop along a street full of woodcarver shops, it was unmarked and thus priced according to who walked in the front door. So when a German, an American, and a Filipina walked in, the price was automatically set pretty high.

I always started the process logically by asking "magkano" or in English, "How much?" I asked this even if there was a price tag with the cost affixed to the item because often, their answer was less than marked. Once they spit out an answer in Philippine Pesos, it was simply a matter of offer and counter offers of numbers. Depending on where you were doing the purchasing and how saturated it gets with foreigners spending large amounts of money, determines if additional haggling is necessary. For example, if you were off the beaten path as I was at the woodcarving shop, I would shake my head no when prices were given to me and acting insulted, start to leave the shop. This would guarantee another lower figure than the one just mentioned. The farther I got out the door, the lower the figure would go until I would eventually accept it, still at a higher price than any Filipino would have paid. For example, I bought a hand carved set of fork and spoon, two feet tall and a sign of prosperity when hung on the wall of your house for the equivalent of fifty cents. My mother-in-law, in an effort to prove to me how naïve I was, went back and bought the same thing from the same store for ten cents, five times less than what I paid for it. Note that the method of walking out the door does nothing for you in high tourist areas for the owners knows that another tourist even more willing to part with their money will soon arrive. For that reason and to not set precedence for future shopping gringos, I prefer to do my shopping off the beaten path.

With the woodcarver in question, he was in a district well known to foreigners for woodcarving statues but a lot farther down the mountain road than the other shops and thus not as frequently traveled. This shop was somewhere in-between the two extremes mentioned previously. He quoted me a couple lower figures as I walked out of the shop trying to look insulted but still the price was quite high. I set off down the road looking at other woodcarving shops but never could find another statue like the one I had my eyes on. I went back to the shop and was rewarded with more haggling. Would I take an unfinished one for less of a price, or a smaller one, etc? I acted indifferent to the object of my desire and instead questioned him on the cost of other items. Eventually he made one last offer and I took him up on it. For a measly 300 pesos or about $6.00 US, a princely sum for a day's wages for the woodcarver, I became the proud owner of the statue.

Eventually, wrapped in dirty clothing, stuffed into an extra large rolling suitcase, having survived customs and a plane trip across the Pacific ocean, the wooden statue arrived with me a couple weeks later in Iowa and now graces a wall in the great room of my home. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the hour or so I spent haggling for it and the bargain price I received it for. I'm sure a woodcarver in the Philippines looks at some new electronic gadget he bought from the proceeds and remembers how big a fool I was to pay that much for such a simple wooden statue when any Filipino knows it should have cost five times less.

11 comments:

R. Sherman said...

Haggling in the third world can be fun, but you've got to be able to carry it off. I suck at it, primarily because I wind up feeling guilty about paying so little anyway.

Cheers.

Ed Abbey said...

I used to feel guilty until I saw a) what lots of extra money can do to people i.e. booze and b) it conditions people to take advantage of others who don't know the difference. I could haggle a lot harder than I do but I do like that we can both walk away happy.

The Real Mother Hen said...

Ah, where were you when I needed to bargain? I'm totally hopeless in bargain - that's why I hardly get anything from any street fairs in any foreign lands. The moment I am on the spot negotiating a price, I freeze - big time. Pretty useless huh?

sage said...

Do you enjoy buying cars too? I'm like Randall, I often feel guilty even though I know I'm paying more than natives, I'm still paying a whole lot less that what I could get it for in the states

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - Unfortunately, I no haggle culture in the U.S. doesn't prepare people well for going places where haggling is expected.

Sage - I do. Probably not a coincidence then that I don't mind haggling for trinkets in third world countries. However, when buying a car, I do lots of homework first. With a trinket, I have no idea other than to reduce the price some because I know it was inflated as soon as my white face walked in the door.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I'm no American, but a bloody Asian who can't bargain! That's shameful - I know! Btw, can I please say something? I honestly hate the term "3rd world country"! I would use "developing countries" instead. There is no 1st, 2nd and 3rd world - the 3rd world aren't backwards, maybe even more culturally rich than the so called "1st" world.

Murf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murf said...

Boy, all that work and you don't even bother dusting it?!? :-)

Ed Abbey said...

Murf - I think it adds character.

Murf - I think it adds character.

Murf said...

You'll be in trouble when you get home for not doing that before taking the picture. :-)

Beau said...

Very nice! Never enjoyed haggling, but learned how over time. The real problem is when you really want something... Have to let it all go. Best deal I ever got was in a shop in Hong Kong... was the first customer of the day looking at paintings. By tradition and as a business omen for the day, they want the first customer to have a good shopping experience. It was a fair price for both of us.