Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fulbright Blog
Date: October 22, 2006
Place: Dhaka

Yesterday I decided to go to the New Market to buy some household items (towels, hangars, etc.) that I needed. I knew that it would be busy because Eid, the end of Ramadan, is on October 24th. Eid seems to be the Islamic equivalent of Christmas. Everybody goes home to their families in the villages outside of Dhaka. They prepare a very large feast and gifts are exchanged. The typical Eid gift is an item of clothing - saris, shirts, shoes, jewelry, etc. These gifts are usually given on the week leading up to Eid so that the recipient can wear the new clothes on the holiday. Consequently, this past week has been like last-minute Christmas shopping at Macy's in New York. There are so many people that you can hardly get in the stores. The traffic is also terrible (although it did let up a little after Thursday because most people left town.) Bengalis typically get Eid and the days after (up to the weekend) off. As around the American holidays, most people also take a couple of days before and after off as well. I am one of the few people who came into the office today... (The Bengali work week is also different. Because Friday is the Islamic holy day, the weekend is Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday.)

Anyway, I took my first rickshaw by myself to get to the New Market. (The New Market is a large open air shopping center where bargaining is expected.) Because I don't really speak Bangla yet, that posed a bit of a problem. The driver understood "New Market" alright, because Bengalis use the English name, but when I bargained for the price, I understood myself to be paying 30 taka, the driver understood 80 taka. He said "pac" which I thought was three, so I held up three fingers, and said "pac" and he nodded at that. Well, about halfway to the market I seemed to be thinking that "pac" was really 8.... Anyway, I grossly overpaid, but arrived safe and sound.

The market, as I said, was packed to the brim with shoppers. Because I am a white woman, I was attracting a lot of attention and everyone tried to get me to visit their stores. I was able to locate many of the items that I wanted, and then utilized my bargaining skills to get what I felt was the local price. I am sure that I still overpaid by a bit, but I was able to significantly reduce the initial offering price. For example, I wanted to buy three bath towels. The original price the owner quoted me was 250 taka (about $4) per towel and I wanted to pay around 70 taka ($1) per towel. I ended up buying three for 227 taka.

A few bargaining tips:
  1. Assume that the real price is about 1/3 to 1/2 of what they initially say.
  2. Do not smile or look overly interested in an item.
  3. If the vendor says it is "high quality" (which they all will), point out all of the item's flaws - i.e. it is very thin, I am not sure about the color, etc.
  4. Be prepared to walk away. Especially in a place like the New Market you will most likely find the same item elsewhere, so you can always start your bargaining over again somewhere else.
  5. Let them make the first offer.
  6. Make your counter offer about 1/4 to 1/3 of what they offer. (In some of the larger high end stores, the price is marked, so you might be able to get a 10 - 25% discount, but not much more)
  7. When you get close to what you want, they will probably stop bargaining down, so it helps if you start slowly walking away, or walk to the next table so that they have an opportunity to stop you. You are making a point of saying, "my final price IS my final price and I will not go over it." You should be prepared to go up by 5 or 10 taka at that point though to get the deal done if they do call you back.

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