Sunday, April 01, 2007

Egypt - Haggling for Bargains

By Elizabeth Hutcheson

Bargaining for goods and services is customary in Egypt and many visitors relish negotiating for that elusive ‘best’ price. But for those unused to the concept, haggling can seem daunting. Securing the ‘right’ price, even for Egyptians, is an acquired skill that takes practice, patience and above all a sense of humour.

When hunting for gifts and souvenirs visitors should never feel pressurised to purchase quickly. Competition is stiff between traders and most shops and markets are open until midnight, seven days a week, affording the visitor plenty of time to browse the wealth of exotic goods available and compare prices.

But there are exceptions to this. Charges are not open to negotiation in coffee shops, restaurants and at fruit and vegetable stalls where profit margins are low. Goods in supermarkets and pharmacies are mostly computerised and prices there are fixed. Private taxi fares should be agreed before acceptance and getting an idea of the real cost of public transport is to be recommended before using.

The local bazaar (souq), where haggling is practically obligatory, can be especially intimidating for the novice shopper on a first visit. Having a drink at any one of the numerous coffee shops is a good way of adjusting to the cacophony of noise and overpowering aromas from spices and smoke. Vendors work extremely hard at enticing potential buyers to inspect their wares. Careful scrutiny of the pantomime of negotiations that follow a successful engagement is the best introduction to the art of Egyptian street trading.

Shopkeepers are more than happy to discuss prices, but most are reluctant to put a value on any item until they have an idea of how much money is likely to be spent. For the serious bargain hunter patience and use of some acting skills is vital. Hesitating, pretending lack of funds and walking away all help.

No trader worth his salt willingly lets a potential buyer go and will eventually name a figure. When he does, a counter offer of at least half is acceptable and from thereon a right good ‘haggling banter’ can be enjoyed by all.

Should a vendor stick at a price that seems too high then either remain persistent, and perhaps casually mention that you have seen the item cheaper elsewhere, or politely depart. A vendor will only let you go if your final offer really is too low.

One useful ploy is to discuss the price of an unwanted item and, when negotiations reach a stalemate, enquire about the item you really want. The vendor, anxious to make a sale, will almost certainly give you his lowest acceptable price for this one.

It can be difficult to prevent others joining in the bidding game, but try not to as it only causes confusion and generally works against you.

Window shopping alone is great fun and a valuable opportunity for tourists to learn about the local people, culture as well as checking out prices. No one is ever obliged to make a purchase, even when offered refreshments.

Should you subsequently find out that someone paid less for the same purchase, don’t worry about it if you think what you paid was fair, reasonable and affordable.

For many tourists the powerful purchasing power of the euro and dollar, combined with relatively cheaper prices for goods and services, is a major reason for choosing Egypt as a holiday destination. But it should be borne in mind, however, that wages are extremely low and for most traders profits are marginal as well as seasonal.

Visitors can generally afford to be a little generous and expect to pay slightly over the odds, especially when asking prices are put into perspective when converted.

However, some unfortunate visitors have been known to forget and squander precious holiday time arguing like crazy over what turned out to be mere pennies in their own currency!


ERH said...

Elizabeth Hutcheson can be contacted at elizabethhutcheson[at]

Luxury Holidays in Sharm el Sheikh said...

Thanks for these info. I'll be taking note of this. Maybe I'll be purchasing something, so I'll know what to do during Luxury Holidays in Egypt.