Have you ever shopped at a local souk in Dubai? What about Karama? Have you at least watched people shop there? If you have, you’ve probably seen a whole lot of arguing, animated hand movements and a number shaking heads. Haggling is an integral part of the local Emirati culture and is a game that is mastered over time but must be played as the price of most things are grossly inflated here in alluring markets of the U.A.E.
I’m not talking about buying groceries at Hyper-Panda or a burger at Hardees. Can you imagine that, ‘What! 45 Dirhams for a Chili Lava Burger? No way I’ll give you 15! That isn’t what I mean and please don’t ever try that. But when visiting places like the souks or the out of the way Dragon Mart or China Mall, it is expected that both the buyer and the seller will haggle, enthusiastically, determinedly and for long periods of time.
I rarely haggle for anything when I go shopping. I have shopped for quirky little knick knacks and affordable antiques all over the world. I remember being mesmerized by an 80 year old bronze statuette of a whirling dervish at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I asked the price. The guy quoted an obscene amount and then looked away. I asked what his ‘last price’ would be. He brought it down by a couple of Euros and within minutes the statue was mine. A while later I noticed a peddler outside the Blue Mosque selling a larger version of the statue for the same price. I was crestfallen and angry at the same time, but what could I do? I’ve had similar experiences in Qatar, Scotland, London and China too. China – that’s where I got ripped off good and proper. The most recent misfortune was buying a painting of an Arab family at a shop near the Sharjah museum. There was no haggling there but a few days later I noticed the same painting being sold along the Dubai Creek for a lot cheaper.
So lately I’ve been wondering if there is a ‘Haggling for Dummies’ paperback around. I don’t know how much it would help me but I think I could learn from it and then draw from past experience and come up with some strategies to keep from getting cheated again. I grew up watching my mother bargain for the best deals. She still has some amazing techniques. Threats, some careful manipulation even a little impromptu acting, she knows all the tricks. Each time she slipped into bargain mode, I would roll my eyes, sigh heavily and generally make my disapproval known. But I have come to realize that she was brilliant at this little game simply because she never paid a couple of bucks more than the actual cost of anything she ever purchased. I wish I could say the same about myself.
With the Dubai Shopping Festival on these days, I know there are going to be oh so many tempting things to buy and so many ‘offers’ to choose from. While bargaining in the malls is an absolute no-no, I am looking forward to hitting the souks again. There’s a silver Moroccan floor lamp with red glass panels in a little shop in Karama that caught my eye a few weeks ago. As much as I would have loved to buy it then and there, the owner’s reluctance to entertain my amateur haggling skills put me off a little. I’m definitely going to go back there and this time I will be armed with some time tested techniques. I just hope the lamp hasn’t been sold and that my resolve doesn’t vanish the moment I open my mouth to speak.