This is your how to guide to negotiating your way through India.
Negotiating in India, whether it be for tuk tuk rides or bananas on the street, is an interesting experience all on its own. OK, I’m not claiming I’m an expert or anything, I’m pretty sure I’ve been ripped off plenty in India. After all, they did end up taking me on my final offer. But after three weeks of heavy bargaining and head wobbling, I think I did quite well. I think. Hey, I tried.
3 Tips You Should Know
Here’s hoping my shopping skills can help shave off a few rupees for you if you ever decide to go shopping in India (which you will). First things first..
1. EVERYTHING in India is negotiable.
I mean everything – clothes, jewelry, water, fruit! You name it, it’s all negotiable. You just have to try it once. It gets addicting.
Second, and this mostly applies to buying food from street vendors, is
2. NEVER ever ask, “How much?”
If you ask, they will charge you more. Not always, but it can happen. Instead, naturally and effortlessly hand over the rupees (what you think it should cost or a larger bill just to be safe) and you will more than likely get the correct change back. I call this my non-verbal bargaining technique.
I once paid $20Rs for two banana. And then $20Rs for one. On my last banana run in Udaipur, I decided I’m not going to ask anymore. Instead, I walked up to the produce man on the street, picked out three bananas from a bunch, handed the old man my $20Rs followed by a head wobble and my best Mona-Lisa smile. Seconds later, I got a head wobble and no eye contact back. Score!
Which brings me to my last point. If ever you learn one thing in India, learn
3. the power of THEEK HAI.
Pronounced teek-aye it’s your secret weapon to successfully bargain like a real Indian. I was told it’s like a laid back way of saying, it’s cool, we’re good, or it’s no big deal. To me, it felt more like a, pretty please?? when I’m negotiating.
Tuk tuk’s will always agree to take you where you want. Make sure you land on a price and that it’s clear before getting in the car. Use theek hai at the end of your offer.
I first used theek hai trying to bargain a tuk tuk driver in Jodhpur. Two drivers declined my $50Rs offer for taking us from the Fort down to the Old Clocktower. They wouldn’t budge from $80Rs. I started to lose hope when I managed to slip out a quiet, theek hai? with a please-forgive-us-we’re-new-at-this look in my eyes to our third driver. Before I can retract, he wobbled his head back. Yay!
So, now that you’re armed with the will to bargain and the power of theek hai, let’s go shopping!
50 RUPEES = 1 DOLLAR
What to wear
Most days, we look like this. Our multi-colored cotton pants, a light t-shirt and a scarf for me. That’s pretty much it, nothing special but we were comfortable. In fact, I practically recycled the same three outfits over and over.
I know they look goofy, but everyone’s wearing them. And by everyone I mean all the Westerners. But I will say they are the most comfortable pants you’ll be wearing in India. Plus you start to feel a bit left out if you don’t have one.
Price = 250 rupees
Initial Offer = 100 rupees
Paid = 150 rupees
Jewelry is a tricky one. Street vendors typically do bundle prices. We were in Jodhpur and I really wanted some Rajasthani bracelets as shown below. I was quoted 4 bracelets for $150Rs and was surprise to learn another Westerner managed to walk away paying $100Rs but not for 4 bracelets – for 6! Not only did she get the price down, but she walked away with 2 extra bracelets! So I was determine to get 12 bracelets for a ridiculous price of 200 rupees.
Price = 450 rupees
Initial/ Final Offer = 200 rupees
Paid = 200 rupees for 12 bracelets
But not without a I’ll-go-elsewhere walk-away method and a couple of theek hai. This one took awhile because I wouldn’t budge when she counter offered. Twice. When in doubt, walk away.
There are loads of heena shops in Udaipur. You can get quoted up to $250Rs if you walk into the wrong shop. I met the sweetest women who owned the smallest shop in town quoting me $50Rs! For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t being ripped off. I mean, come on. It’s one dollar! I didn’t even bother bargaining her down. Instead, I ask for a slight upgrade, asking her to henna up to my wrist.
1st Vendor Price = 250 rupees
2nd Vendor Price = 50 rupees
Paid = 50 rupees
I bought literally one scarf at the beginning of my trip. Most days wrapped either around my neck or head to be more conservative. In New Delhi, my favorite shopping ground is Main Bazar Road – Pahar Ganj. I found a Wholesaler selling scarves for $55Rs. Needless to say, I left India with twelve new scarves!
Price = 150 rupees
Wholesaler Price = 55 rupees
Paid = 50 rupees
Men’s Pant/ Shirt
They’re not displayed well like women’s pants. You just have to ask. Gerard bought one brown pants made out of heavier linen but in a drawstring cargo- style which he practically wore everyday.
Price = 250 rupees
Initial Offer = 100 rupees
Paid = 125 rupees
His “dress shirt” was another story and our biggest bargaining lost. It was practically our first day shopping in India. We were taken to a “nice shop” and was quoted $650Rs for his shirt which we were unsuccessful to negotiate because it was “high quality, good fabric”. We later saw replicas of his shirt on the streets everywhere selling for $150Rs. Turban NOT included but valuable lesson learned.
My best bargaining steal yet. Although I didn’t quite bargain for it. Just found it for much cheaper. In Jaisalmer, if you shop inside the Fort, you will get ripped off. I was quoted an outrageous $650Rs for my dress above. I didn’t even try to negotiate, just walked away. Before even stepping foot outside the shop the price came down to $350Rs. I kept walking avoiding eye contact and eventually hear the seller yell, “OK, how much you want?”
Needless to say, I didn’t return. Instead, we walked outside the Fort where I found the exact same dress for cheaper!
Price = 650 rupees
Another Vendor = 250 rupees
Paid = 250 rupees
So there you have it. I hope my shopping experience in India will help bring out the lean-mean-frugal-bargaining machine in you. Remember, sometimes it’s not about what things should cost, but rather, how much you’re willing to pay for it. If you want it, then get it. But also know that there’s no such thing as hard feelings when it comes to negotiating in India so, if at first you don’t succeed, there’s another vendor down the street just itching to rip you off. (Try again.)
Do you have any bargaining tips you’d like to share?