Back stateside I most often try to avoid shopping unless necessary, but in Africa it is more of an adventure than a destination. For me it is a great way to interact with people, see the creativity in life, and support the local economy.
In Kenya, my favor term they have when shopping is “please promote me”, or “why don’t you promote me?” Of course meaning that you should buy something from them.
Then, of course, they like asking where you are from and what your name is. They often give me a confused look, American? really? Then they say I don’t really look or sound American. From years in Ghana I tend to go into a pigeon English that I can admit would confuse even Americans to think I wasn’t. Then my name seems odd to them to boot.
I love negotiating. It is an art form. Savvy enough to get a good price, respectful enough to make them want to sell to you. Back in Ghana I remember getting stuck behind a friend shopping, who would buy just about anything at full price, and my first comment was that whatever she bought it for, you can half it. Knowing that they just took her for a ride, they laugh and smile.
When being presented with a ridiculous starting price, I say that I don’t want the “special price”, presumably meaning they are giving you a good deal, but really means you are getting the special white person price.
Most of all you have to know what it is worth it to you, and then stick with it. I was looking at a couple of pieces of mud cloth, which were expensive back in the day for about $10 a piece, but these days the price has gone up considerably. Doesn’t help that they are coming from West Africa, but I had as much fun chatting with the guys about the mud cloth as I would have enjoyed actually having the mud cloth.
This time around I was shopping for my mom, who wants to start selling small items at a local booth in Oregon. I figure it is a win if she enjoys doing it and folks on this side get me to buy something from them. We are starting with just a small selection of items, but it was fun shopping for them.
I also love how miraculously you can remember the shop keepers, and they remember you. The picture here is of a woman in Zimbabwe named Julia who also remembered my name after two and a half years! Of course, I had to promote her! 🙂