The Middle East has been a crossroads of trade for centuries as a result of being located halfway between Europe and Asia. This created rich traditions of commerce and a mixing of cultures. Most of theses cultures are astute businessmen so naturally spirited negotiations became an integral characteristic of the local economy.
The economic transactions that most visitors will encounter will be in the many spectacular, overly air-conditioned malls. These are mostly populated by well-known international companies where bargaining is considered poor form just as in the west. However, one can hone their haggling skills by going slightly off the beaten path. There are many shops owned by sole proprietors that will happily play the ancient game but you will have to look for them away from the tourist areas.
One of these areas is Al Meena. It is home to Port Zayed and all manner of small shops and is conveniently located near the Tourist Club. The entrance has carpet and furniture shops where one is sure to get a deal. Further in, you will find a rustic but well stocked vegetable market with goodies from all over the Middle East. Toward the waterfront there is a household goods area and the one of the largest plant nurseries around. The jewel of Al Meena is the fish market. A loud and busy place, one can choose their favorite seafood from the many open air vendors and have it cooked onsite for a cheap and delicious meal.
Gold can be bargained for in The Gold Souks (shops) at the Madinat Zayed shopping center. Gold is inexpensive here as there are no taxes or VAT. Many stalls have similar products so find your best deal and don’t hesitate to walk to the next vendor for a better bargain. The gold trade is highly regulated in Abu Dhabi so you won’t get burned. Gold is taken very seriously here.
Prices are posted for everything, but start with an opening bid 40% below the posted tariff. A little bit of back-and-forth should end with smiles from both parties as an agreement is finally reached. Don’t be shy, the small shop owners expect it and enjoy the game. It always ends up a win-win situation!