the art of negotiation

I'd forgotten about the need to bargain for everything in Senegal.  But then I realised that I was paying far more for fruit and veg at the roadside stall than the same stuff cost in the supermarket, and began to suspect that either (depending on which way you look at it) I was being ripped off because of the common assumption that everyone white is rich, or I was overpaying because I'd accepted the first price offered me instead of making a counteroffer.  But having been using that stall for three weeks, it would be difficult now to start arguing about the prices, so I spent a hot hour of the Ascension public holiday walking to a large fruit and veg market, where I hoped to be able to compare prices on different stalls and get more of an idea of what the 'real' prices were.  But they were all quoting the same (starting) price so I started the long walk home feeling none the wiser.

On the way back I passed a little shop selling stationery, and went in to buy some envelopes (for all those 'change of address' letters to banks and so on).  I asked the price for a dozen small envelopes and he told me 1,200 francs (some $2), at which point I changed my mind and decided I'd wait for my next trip to the UK, explaining politely to him that it was okay, I didn't want the envelopes.  OK, then 1,000 francs he said.  "No, thank you" I replied, "they are cheaper in England".  At which point he tapped something into his calculator and showed me the screen - now 600 francs.  So I bought the envelopes, half of me pleasantly surprised that the price had come down (having not realised that you could/should bargain in a stationery store), the other half annoyed that he'd initially tried to charge me double - to rip me off.  I relayed the story to a Senegalese colleague, who said she also hated the whole bargaining thing, but that you should never accept the first price given anywhere other than the handful of shops where the price is marked on the items (principally the supermarkets).

For someone as uncomfortable bargaining as I am, this had started to have the effect of stopping me from buying things that I wanted, just to avoid having to bargain.  But I'd seen a local kind of chair that I really want for my balcony.  I looked at them, I sat on one, but there was no price marked and the seller was not going to give me any clue as to the price unless I asked.  & I already knew that asking the price is the first step in the negotiation process, it being very bad form to then walk away without making a purchase.  So how to find out the price of these chairs?

I went into the site of a facebook group I have found here, primarily dedicated to sharing information on places to buy local crafts and textiles, but my question, "how do I deal with this bargaining thing?" elicited a great deal of discussion.  The most liked response was from a long-term resident expat, who said the thing to always remember is that  "you never overpaid for something that was worth the price to you at the time you bought it" (ie don't get upset if you later hear that someone else got one cheaper).  It was generally agreed that there is no need to worry about not being able to compare prices from different vendors as all will have similar costs and thus a similar minimum price that they will accept.  Fundamentally, shopping here requires a shift in attitude, from making a decision on whether you want something based in part on its price, to making a decision up-front on how much you are preapred to pay for something you like, that will then enable you to start the negotiation process.  Because there is no 'real price for the majority of things here, the only price is the one negotiated between the buyer and the seller.

But thankfully on this occasion someone in the facebook group was able to direct me to an earlier post about exactly this kind of chair I was asking about, which gave the price the person had paid for them - less than I would have expected (so I'd have settled for something higher had I not known) so I now feel armed with the information and attitude I need to go back to that chair stall and ask the price.  Although I did manage to find an excuse to put it off until next weekend...

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