Haggling For Dummies

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Arabic lamp
Arabic lamp

I had been dreading the eventual day when I would have to start haggling for purchases. Haggling is an integral part of the local culture here and is a game that has to be played as the stated price of most things are grossly inflated. I’m not talking about buying groceries in Carrefour or food at a Burger King (imagine: You want 10? I’ll give 5 for that Whopper! No? Okay 6!).

But when visiting places like the souks or Dragonmart, it is expected to haggle for your wares. Now I’ve never haggled for anything in my life. I didn’t have to in NY – I’d just wait for sales or mark-downs. And many times, I could buy things cheaper on the internet than I could at a local shop. The closest I’ve ever come to haggling was buying glow-in-the-dark 1999 glasses in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I saved myself one dollar. Yep, one whole dollar. I was quite proud of myself.

Lately I’ve been wondering if there exists Haggling for Dummies as I own Cooking for Dummies and Knitting for Dummies and believe you me, I have referenced those books for years! Quiche Lorraine? No problem! Socks knitted on double-point needles? Easy!

But then again, I’m not so sure a dummies book on haggling would be of much help anyway. I mean, I know (in theory) how to do it – not only have I read everything about it on the web but I’m Chinese – hello! – I’ve grown up watching my mother haggle everything on the streets of Chinatown from gold, diamonds, to even my wedding dress!

And every time she has done it, my sisters and I would groan, roll our eyes and exasperatingly say, “Mom! Just pay and let’s go already!”

Aha! Little did we know then what it’s like to live in a haggling world where full-price is never paid except by unsuspecting tourists. Scotch once paid 20 Dhs for a small jar of curry at the spice souk only to find out later that another shop was selling it for 10 Dhs and you can get something similar at the grocery store for 5! No 14-day price adjustment policy here!

Recently, Scotch and I went to the Jumeirah Antique Museum to look for bedroom and dining room furniture. The name is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not really a museum but a 65,000 sq ft dusty maze of a warehouse in Al Quoz filled with merchandise from many different countries such as Moroccan lamps, African masks, Kashmir pashminas, Vietnamese ceramic, Indian wine racks, Omani silver, Pakistani swords, so on and so on, with sections, rooms, or aisles devoted to each particular category of wares. There’s also a framing section (like for pictures). And as they do sell wholesale, there’s the usual souvenir kitsch such as miniature crystals of the Burj and Emirates Towers, made-in-China key chains and perfume bottles, etc. AND, if you are in need of a life-size penis ashtray or a penis can opener – look no farther than the Moroccan lamp room as there are a couple on display. Perhaps someone mistook the lamp room for the penis section/aisle/room? Hmm…

There were no bedroom sets nor dining room tables but it was great fun weaving in and out of the narrow aisles looking at all the goodies on display. It was so dark in some areas that I might bring a flashlight next time and pretend that I’m exploring some underground Arabian treasure trove.

The only thing that we came away with were two small red Moroccan-like floor lamps that you can put tea candles in.

Here is my first time haggling skills at work:

-“Sir, how much is this lamp?”

-“80 Dirhams madams” he says. Oh god, this is where I’m supposed to counter with an offer of half.

-“Um, can you give me a better price?” I asked instead. Ugh, failure, failure, failure. He nodded, punched some numbers into a calculator (ah, that old game) and offered me 140 for both lamps.

-“Um, will you take 120?” I counter. No! I’m supposed to say 80, Will you take 80 for both? Why didn’t I say that?

-“They are worth 155, I am already giving you discount of 140,” he replies. Crap, why didn’t I pay more attention when my mom did this? What would mom do? What would mom say?

-“Um, so you really won’t take 120?” holding my breath.

-“130,” the man says.

-“Okay!” Sold! …Wait, why did I give in so easily? Sigh.

Well, I must’ve been really pathetic at this game, because after the man wrapped up the lamps, he came back and sold the lamps to me for 110 without any further haggling from my end.

Actually I think he said, “I now give them to you for 100” but I suck so much at this game I may have haggled him up. 110!

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  1. Dear Out & About,

    Next time you are out scavenging for a good deal, you might want to check out http://www.riazu.com

    It's the largest classifieds network in the Middle East, and it has a deals & discounts forum, i.e. info on all the latest deals & discounts from all over the UAE + sometimes even exclusive online vouchers.

    And btw, congrats on finding that Korean store 🙂 I live in Toronto, in Koreatown and don't know what I would do without my Ramen and Bulgogi:)