What to Expect and Avoid at Bazaars Around the World

by  Tommy Burson | May 7, 2015

“Hello, hello. Come. Have a cup of tea.”

They’re friendly.

“You know. Very famous rugs here.”

They’re insidious.

“Nobody comes here to buy a rug, but everybody leaves with one.”

They’re gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse -- or so you think.

You’ll find these salespeople chirping in the grand bazaars across North Africa and the Middle East in cities like Istanbul, Marrakech, and Cairo, but the aggressive tactics can be found from Jaipur to the Brooklyn Flea.

The approach generally begins friendly enough, “It would be an honor to have you look in my shop.” Next thing you know, you’ve had four cups of tea and are haggling for free shipping on a $1,300 rug, rationalizing the cost because the negotiation started at $1,700 -- that, supposedly, lasts three generations, which is fantastic because the great, great grandkids need a half-wool, double-woven rug covered with sheep impressions.

But don’t worry. This type of encounter happens to almost every tourist -- some multiple times -- daring to enter the chaotic bazaars across around the world (seriously, not joking). But here's what to expect and avoid at bazaars around the globe. 

The Cup of Tea: “Hello! Where you from? Come, let’s enjoy a cup of tea.” Seems friendly enough. Who’d refuse such a generous invitation? Just so you know, the sale begins the moment you accept the offer for tea. You’ll be whisked away to the corner of the shop and pitched an assortment of rugs, jewels, or trinkets that you “won’t find anywhere in the world” -- and, to be fair, this is a great chance to snag jewelry for an affordable price. Once inside, you’ll struggle to leave empty-handed, and it’s not unheard of for shop owners to block the door, forcing a purchase.

No Browsing for You: “Ah. You like what you see?” Browsing means buying. Remember that. The moment a salesperson sees you eyeing a product, whether it be a pair of sandals or gold tennis bracelet, he will make sure you end up with that product. Similar to the description above, the sale starts off friendly and gradually turns into a cup of tea and an aggressive haggle-a-thon.

The Tour Guide Salesman: “At the end of the tour, we’ll stop in one of the oldest shops in the grand bazaar.” Fantastic. It’s the perfect opportunity to dig into the local lifestyle. In reality, your tour guide is probably a commissioned salesperson for this “old, historic” shop. It happens most often with older folks. Guides will generally invite unsuspecting elders to visit some ruins just outside of the city. Once they’ve been herded onto the bus, the guide announces a “quick” stop, which turns into a two hour sales pitch, at a shop along the day. Of course, this isn’t true for all, or even a majority, of the city’s tour guides, but these salesmen exist, garnering a chat with a shop owner who, naturally, pitches his finest products.

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