We often go to the local markets here in Xela for groceries and whatever other needs pop up. There is a definite, recognized hierarchy of value here as far as the markets are concerned and, like the good little backpackers we are, we go to the cheapest one. It takes a little while in a new place to get a sense of appropriate prices, especially for local produce. The markets here are all premised on a bargaining culture and you’ve got to push hard for a fair price, even for a bunch of carrots.
You can find anything from food and clothes…
…to pets (or food?) at Guatemalan markets
It is generally accepted that the vendors will quote you a price anywhere from 2-3 times the actual ‘value’, or lowest price that they will accept. Foreigners pride themselves on the ability to deduce and receive the ‘local’ price. This is actually a pretty sensitive point for many backpackers who are on a budget. They don’t want to be seen as walking ATMs and it is important for them to be treated ‘fairly’ by locals. These types of travellers can be almost bullying in their pursuit of what they consider fair treatment. The guidebooks all warn against being too aggressive in bargaining habits, reminding travellers that they, in fact, do have a whole lot more money than the locals, that even the ‘foreigner’ prices are often a fraction of the cost of similar goods in their home countries, and that the vendors are just trying to get the best price they think they can get for their goods- it is, afterall, their livelihood. The books reason that the whole point of bargaining is to reach an agreement that both parties are satisfied with- you never have to pay more than you are comfortable with, you can always just say no and walk away.
What do you mean I don’t blend in?
We consider ourselves fairly seasoned travelers at this point and have a pretty flexible sense of what is reasonable in different situations. R actually enjoys the bargaining game, but it still gives me knots in my stomach to fight with a little old lady over the price of tomatoes/socks/commemorative t-shirts/etc. And so we were doing a little grocery shopping the other day, picking up a whole variety of produce for 1-5 Quetzales (the local currency that translates to about 7.5Q for $1US). We felt pretty good about our haul, but happened to ask a local man in the street for the appropriate price for the bunch of celery we had just picked up. It turned out that we were overcharged about 300%, but the gringo price we paid worked out to about 23 cents. It was a bit of a shock to realize that we had overpaid by so much- and probably had been similarly overpaying for just about everything else we’ve been buying, and bargaining for- but it is also hard to get upset about that kind of ratio. In fact, I think it is more of a shock that the actual price is so much lower than I would have ever considered bargaining for. It was a stark reminder that we are, in fact, just visitors here and that we do have a pretty staggering relative level of wealth. Even now that we are armed with the truth of the matter, I think we’ll continue to pay our gringo prices because it still feels like everybody wins.
Bargaining pays off
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