Many people love to barter, haggle and negotiate when traveling. But I can’t ever bring myself to do it. If I have enough money to travel, and I have enough money to buy souvenirs, I feel like I should just pay the price they’re asking. If I do the conversion rate from dollars to shekels(or pesos or dirhams or rupees or bahts), I am already getting a deal. Trying to barter in English never gets me anywhere and bartering in Israel feels a little like competing against the Harvard Debate team. Israelis are the best arguers in the world. They argue for the sake of argue. They’ll stand all day with you waiting for you to pay the price they want you to pay. But this is how they make money, and while the shekel has seen some improvement against the dollar and the euro, it’s still not one for one. Before shopping and haggling, be sure of the exchange rate to know exactly how much the merchant is asking and how much you’re willing to pay.
If the merchant thinks I’m able to pay because I’m a tourist, and that I need to buy this particular thing for my grandma, or co-worker, or friend back home, they think they’ve got me at the disadvantage. There are exceptions, of course. Less commercial markets may barter more quickly and more generously, if you speak Hebrew(or are with a Hebrew speaker) you are at an advantage, and if it is the end of the day, and it’s something that is going to expire, they might sell it to you for cheaper than they ask. I asked my friends her feeling about haggling over prices and she insisted that I was wrong.
So if you can stomach the negotiations, she says to follow these rules:
- You can’t barter in supermarkets or regular stores, but in the market, you should always try to get the merchant to take the price down.
- If they don’t budge, walk out. They’ll follow you.
- You’re more likely to get a better deal from Arab merchants than from Jewish merchants.
- Bartering in Tel Aviv is a little more easy going than in the Old City. They can be really intimidating, but stand your ground and hold to the price you’re willing to pay. The worst thing is when you show your tour guide the kipa you bought for forty shekels, when everyone else paid 20.
- Very few shops have original items, so if you don’t like the price he’s willing to sell it to you for, move on.
- Know what you’re paying in dollars. It’s the best way to tell if you’re happy with the price.
- Only haggle if you really mean to buy something. Otherwise you’re wasting his time, and yours.
In the Tel Aviv-Yafo area, there are three markets at which you can barter for goods. The Carmel Shuk(Hebrew for market), the Bezalel Market and the Flea Market in Tel Aviv. Each market offers a different feel and a variety of products. If you’re just in the mood to shop, any market will satisfy your desire to look at a bunch of stuff you probably don’t need. But the prices are so good, it’s really hard to say no to three different scarves because they’re 3 scarves for 40 shekels(10 dollars). In fact, if you leave the market without buying a scarf for yourself or for someone else, you’ve missed one of the best products in the market. If you’re looking for Judaica, your best bet is the Carmel Shuk. If you want antique or eclectic products, go to Jaffo’s Flea Market. While you can find clothing in both the Carmel Shuk and the Flea Market, the prices are lowest at the Bezalel Market.
Happy shopping and happy haggling, if you’re not a passive-aggressive shopper like me.