day thirty three: five tips for bargaining in Nicaraguan markets

on friday i went to masaya (my favorite city so far) and explored the markets a little bit more… despite the fact that i’ve been there three times in the past two weeks, i still get a little lost every time i go to the municipal market.
i can’t say i mind too much. it’s fun, to explore markets without a deadline or a purpose, wandering and watching and smelling and taking it all in.

but! i have gotten significantly better at shopping there than i was before… and so here are my best tips for bargaining at markets (or really anywhere):

  1. know when bargaining is acceptable. a lot of people say that prices are never fixed. but at some places (for example, when you’re buying bottled water) it’s sillier to bargain than at others (for example, when you’re buying a t-shirt at a market stall). also, recognize that it’s considered acceptable — expected even — to haggle in certain circumstances, whereas in others it’s odd or even rude. other times, it may be impolite to outright question prices, but the seller will probably go down on the price if you hesitate long enough.
    anyway. my cardinal rule is that i don’t bargain in microbuses and i always bargain in markets and everything else depends on the situation and the price.
  2. listen. if there are enough other people around, i like to casually hang around a stall and listen to see what the vendor is charging others, just to get a general feel for how much things should cost/how much i should be willing to pay.
  3. speaking of casual, remember: at least at the beginning, don’t be too interested. if you’re very obviously going to buy something no matter what the seller charges you, they’ll pick up on that Real Fast.
    (alternately, you should still feel free to be interested and compliment the work? not just because a little flattery can get you a long way, but because showing genuine interest is nice and shows the seller that their work is valued?)
  4. smile. bargaining is supposed to be fun, for goodness’ sake, and i think a lot of people forget that. if arguing over a price makes you anxious, then don’t feel like you have to do it! alternately, if discussing discounts gives you a rush, make sure you look friendly rather than Super Bloodthirsty. no one likes to bargain with a bully.
  5. and on that note… know when to stop. especially here, it’s important to remember that you’re a (comparatively rich) foreigner, that people need to make a living — and that sometimes, arguing over those last thirty cents just isn’t worth it.
    yes, i love markets, and by that token, i also love the bargaining.
    but at the end of the day, that’s because i love people and i love practicing my spanish this way and i love discovering new things. prices are just, well, prices.



day twenty seven: salt

sometimes when i come home my host family sends me out “grocery shopping” with my host sister to buy  the last couple things we need for that night’s dinner.

it’s really fun… i hold the money and we go out walking to the pulperias (little street shops that sell basically everything) and she usually knows where to go even in the dark and we have conversations on the way and once we get there she matter-of-fairly orders everything we need.

also, she’s five years old.

outside of the fact that she’s way more comfortable than i am walking around in the dark in San Juan (not because it’s dangerous– it’s not– but because there are no street lights and if i tripped over the curb and fell on my face that would be the Most Chela Thing Ever), she’s also pretty much the most self-confident kid ever. but this friday, we were both stumped.

we’d gone to three pulperias and none of them would sell us salt.

keep in mind, these are the same shops that casually had several dozen eggs on hand when we bought them a couple days ago. these are the same shops that carry everything from chips to umbrellas to deodorant to hot sauce. so why didn’t they have salt?

in fact, i was almost sure that they had some in the last and biggest pulperia we visited… i almost thought i saw it… but the lady smiled and shook her head and told me “no hay” when i asked her if they sold salt.

“none? at all?”

“no, no…”

at that point i was wondering if maybe this had something to do with my pronunciation. maybe i wasn’t using the right words? who knew? 

frustrated, we headed back and i explained to my host mum that there was no salt. in any of the shops. at all.

she laughed and told me that there’s a superstition here — if you sell salt after 3pm, it’s bad luck and bad business. i might very well have seen the little bags of salt, but they weren’t about to hand it to me. 


anyway, we (my host sister and i) ended up going getting salt from one of my host sister’s tias, which was convenient (my host family is related to basically half of San Juan i swear) and so everything worked out just fine. thank goodness!

p.s. also here’s a picture of the victorious salt packet. you’re welcome.