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Culture —– Ensenada Mexico Part II

by Brandi

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July 20th, 2009

This week we are going to talk more about shopping/bargaining in Ensenada and Mexico in general.

Like I mentioned a few weeks ago before the holidays, when we went to Ensenada, we had an excellent tour guide named Miguel. He gave everyone in the group tips on how to bargain in Mexico. For example, he said that if you’re shopping and something you want costs $10, you should automatically offer $5 (half the original price). The vendor will never go that low, but it gives you some leverage to begin the bargaining process. Eventually you’ll work the price up to about $7. After bargaining, you’ll probably end up getting things for about 20-30% off the original price. Like I mentioned in a previous newsletter, you can bargain at any small street shops but most likely large department stores or malls will not bargain.

It’s slightly different hearing about bargaining and than actually being on the streets of Mexico (or other parts of the world) doing it. For example, my wife Melanie had only shopped in Latin America once before, a long time ago, and didn’t remember what it was like. When we passed by a street vendor selling hats, we saw one that she really liked and wanted to get as a souvenir for her mother. The man started off with $10 as the asking price. I gave him a look as if he were crazy and offered him $5. We went back and forth for a little while and after threatening to buy one cheaper somewhere else, he finally agreed to sell it to me for only $6! At that price we decided to get two hats, one for my mother and her mother. As I was bargaining, I could tell that Melanie wasn’t comfortable watching me try to get the vendor to drop the price. She simply isn’t used to the culture of bargaining and felt a tiny bit out of her comfort zone.

As you go to Latin America for the first time to shop or if you have never bargained for things before, it can feel slightly awkward at first, but it’s completely normal and actually expected. As for me, there are several things more fun than bargaining for the cheapest possible price on an item. Bargaining/shopping is a fantastic cultural experience and gives you good practice in Spanish as well.

Now changing the topic a little, our tour guide Miguel gave us valuable advice for purchasing any type of silver in Mexico. Any time you buy silver in Mexico, you must make sure it’s engraved with the numbers 925. For example, if you buy a pair of earrings look on the back and make sure that “925” is engraved somewhere on it. If it is not engraved on it, the silver item is probably fake. Also, one last tip on wearing silver—don’t wear it in the shower! I am not quite sure why, but Miguel said this is VERY important you don’t wear it in the shower.

Moral of the Story: If you go to Latin America, make sure you try bargaining with the street vendors. It’s one of the best cultural experiences you can have while you’re there. Besides it being fun, you can also get items at great prices! Also – remember, do not wear your silver in the shower.

Sneak peek at next week: Ensenada Part III!

¡Hasta la próxima semana! (Until Next Week!)
David S. Clark — President / Director

Click here to learn Spanish.

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12 Responses

  1. Nimal says:

    I enjoy your stories.

    I come from Asia and there too they bargain. My ex mother-in-law used to negotiate with the dealers while I stood outside feeling utterly embarassed. Sometimes she used to walk away only to be called back by the salesman in public. However, while working on my research I discovered the reasons for this process. Bargaining is a social process of having a conversation. In these countries relationships with people are not just financial transactions, it is a cultural exchange. They want to talk a lot and exchange their views. Europeans and North Americans act like efficient programmed machines – look, buy and depart while South Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners generally are talkative people eager to find what’s going on in the visitors countries and with their lives. That is why sometimes the questions are of a personal nature – how many children, where do you work, how much did your car cost etc. They seem very insensitive and intrusive but in their world they do this all the time as a way of raising their hopes and raising their spirits. Bargaining allows them to do that.

    However when bargaining one must also be generous. The more you squeeze out the less they have. Yes, getting things down to a dollar makes us feel good but an extra dollar goes a long way for the family, especially when you are dealing with street vendors. Get a feel for the value by comapring with other vendors and get the price down and then offer a dollar more. Nice way to make both the seller and the buyer feel good from the exchange. However, make sure that you start froma display price or a good understanding of teh street price.

    Prof. Nimal

  2. Frank Eady says:

    I too enjoy the stories.

    My wife and I spend a couple of months at a time working at a children’s home just outside of Oacaxa, Mexico. My wife, having spent a couple of years in Iran many years ago is an excellent bargainer but we very much keep in mind Prof. Nimal’s last paragraph regarding the need to be generous. Having spent considerable time in the area over the years we have a good idea of prices and value.

    In recent years the area has been more depressed than usual as a result of tourism being down because of the unrest associated with the teacher’s strikes and now H1N1. This means that the small vendors in the markets who sell goods to tourists often start with very low prices. As we are there a lot we also tend to be recognized and they know that we come from the mission home, especially on a day when we have a bunch of Mexican kids with us.

    Prof. Nimal is also right about the conversation and we often have a long conversation with a vendor even before asking the price. Lately the price is often such that there is not as much room to bargain so we end up offering a little less to play the game but not so much less as to either insult or cheat them. The Mexicans we meet in the villages are very hard working people who deserve to make a living. That does not mean that there are still not some vendors who start much too high and try to really fleece the tourist but more and more as times are tough these are becoming the exception.

    The other thing that we have found in terms of building relationship is when we buy something that the vendor has made personally we ask if we can take their picture with the item. The vast majority of them are pleased to do this although we do not ask if the women are in traditional Zapotec dress as they do not want their pictures taken.

  3. Nimal says:

    Thanks for the tip. I will remember top use my camera next time.


  4. Thank you for the post. You are so right with bargaining in Latin America.

  5. cassie says:

    ah, so interesting, I am from Tianjin, China, and the scene of bargain David told us is so similarly here, ah. small places bargain and big malls not to mention bargain.
    I’d like to share another point is that why you cant shower wearing your 925 silver?
    925 silver doen not made of 100% silver, it contains 7.5% alloy, therefore, its silver content is 92.5%, I guess this may be the resource of its name.
    well,as we learned in Middle School Chemistry lesson, the stability of Silver is not so good as gold or platinum, therefore, it is very easily to lose its beautiful metal polish when exposed to water and oxygen because of oxygenation. So in order to keep your 925 silver beautiful and polish, pls don’t wear it to shower.
    hope it helps!

  6. cassie says:

    well, so interesting about the bargin you talken in this blog, well, I am from China, and the same scene can be find here, too.
    I’d like to share my opinion on why you cant shower wearing your 925 silver. as far as i know, 925 silver is not made of 100% silver, it contains 7.5% alloy instead, that may be also the reason why it is called 925 silver, because it only contains 92.5% silver.ah
    well, as I have learned in Middle school chemistry lesson, the stability of silver is so good as gold or Pt. therefore, silver is very easily to lose its beautiful metal polish when exposed to water and oxygen because of oxygenation. so, in order to keep your 925 beautiful, pls dont expose it to any places that contains rich water and oxygen.

  7. G S TYAGI says:

    I am from India and …bargain in India is also needed to asses the right price …and than it is up to you how cleverly you..deal with it…….in the Handicraft things and vegetables, it is must..not in Malls but most of the shops bargaining is there,,,,,

  8. Silvia says:

    I think it’s sick to try to get a cheaper price for items in Mexico, the vendors rely on the profits to sustain their family, they live in abject poverty and as a human you reduce them as humans.

  9. danwize says:

    @G S TYAGI I lived in Brazil for a couple years and have traveled to Mexico several times. In both places it is the same as what you said. Bargaining is not done in the malls. Only in the small shops and street vendors do you bargain.

  10. danwize says:

    I can see your point about how important it is to sell for those vendors. However, Haggling is part of the culture in Mexico, and Brazil (where I lived for two years). When a vendor gives you a price, they are counting on the fact that the buyer will haggle. With the culture of bargaining, the vendor has an opportunity to make more on a sale than he might generally make because some people will pay the higher price. Bargaining is always beneficial for the buyer and the seller. A seller can make a bigger sale to someone who feels it is worth it, and buyers can find the what they think is a good bargain.@Silvia

  11. danwize says:

    Thanks for those insights! That is a great point that before you start bargaining, you know the going rate for the item in question.@Nimal

  12. danwize says:

    @cassie Thanks for the tips on keeping my silver looking good.

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