Caribbean Thoughts

by Carol Mitchell

How much is that?


Yesterday afternoon I passed by a store on the roadside selling bunches of coloured straw. I needed one to put in a vase. I parked the car out of sight, put 2 cedis (US$1.30) in my pocket and walked to the stand. I picked up one of the bundles and looked it over critically.

“Good morning, madam, you are welcome.” The man minding the store came over and gave me the typical Ghanaian greeting. He spoke in English, so he had clearly identified me as Obroni.

“How much?” I asked.

“Three cedis 50 pesewas,” he responded.

I fished the 2 cedi note out of my pocket, looked it, then said, “OK, thanks,” and I began to walk away.

He stopped me immediately. “It will take 2 cedis, madam.”

I handed over the money and walked away with my straw, proud of myself, but still thinking – ‘I could probably have got it for 1 cedi!.

Bargaining is a part of the way of life here. There are many fixed price stores, of course, the ones in the Mall, most groceries and stores in certain areas. Their prices are generally high, however, and a large percentage of trading is carried out in small stores and on the streets where you are advised to offer half of the named price as your starting bid.

My favorite place to buy brooms

Being a foreigner is an immediate disadvantage in bargaining and if your skin is white, prices triple. There is a perception that if you are a foreigner, you have access to money and you are obliged to spend it. It does not really matter how much the item is valued or whether you even need it. I think that most expats accept that and try to find the happy medium between helping the more disadvantaged and getting completely ripped off!

After I visited Egypt, I had a greater appreciation for the bargaining experience here. In Egypt, a seller would begin by being very friendly. He would go out of his way to assist you and refuse to discuss the price until you chose some items that you wanted. Once he mentioned his price and you mentioned a counter price, the sellers often got sullen, even angry, practically tossing the item at you in disgust. Here, in Ghana, they generally remain pleasant and polite; persistent but very polite.

I really don’t like bargaining. I prefer a seller to tell me the price he wants and to let me decide if I think it is fair or not. On the other hand, I am not always willing to pay for the convenience of shopping in the fixed price stores and I like supporting the street vendors. So, I must hone my bargaining skills and enjoy this life lesson.

Bargaining Matters
“How much is this?” pointing to an item in a store. —> 50 cedis.
Please! That’s too much, I’ll give you 20 cedis. —> Oh no, madam,” He places his palms one above the other facing upwards, tapping the top one on the bottom one, “I will take 45.”
“Look at this, it even has a scratch here. Ok, I will give you 30 cedis.” —> “No madam, I cannot take less than 40.”
“OK, thank you. Good bye.” —> “Ok, madam, but please add something small.”
“I will give you 35.” —> “Thank you madam.”

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