When I was in the Philippines, I got a chance to check out the farmers market at Centris Station in Quezon City with my Mom. It is bigger than any of the farmers markets I’ve ever been to in the United States. From where the taxi dropped us off there were many stalls selling clothing and home items before we got to the cooked food and then to the produce and raw meats. Several of the produce stalls advertise certified organic fruit and vegetables. There was raw honey from Tagaytay and honeycomb in chunks brought in from Benguet. We had a field day shopping.
What threw me off a bit was my Mom’s aggressive haggling style. I remember going to the wet market with my Mom as a child, but at that time I didn’t notice the finer points of market interaction. My senses were too immersed in the busy and noisy market, agog at the tables of meat being fed into metal grinders, old ladies cleaning fish on thick chopping blocks, colorful fruits and vegetables piled high.
Now at Centris Station, my Mom haggled with every vendor she had contact with. She asked for a lower price, eyed products suspiciously, as if it wasn’t as good a quality as the value it was being quoted. If she didn’t get a lower price, she would ask that she get more than what was weighed. It made me cringe. Yet, it made me wonder if this was how it was supposed to be.
I remember shopping in Thailand and the vendor being taken aback by me paying the first price she quoted. That “You’re supposed to haggle” scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian comes to mind.
I don’t get to flex my haggling muscles too often. Grocery stores and mall shops sell products with pre-set prices on stickers or printed on packaging. Want a bargain? You need a coupon, or sign up for membership for future discounts. There is very little need to interact with any of the staff. In fact, some grocery stores now have self-checkout. Just blip the items and deal with the machine.
I love the farmers market experience because I find interacting with farmers and vendors pleasant. I enjoy hearing about where the food comes from and the process of making it. I enjoy getting a free taste of the products. I like how freshly picked locally grown food is. I like handing my money directly to the people who grew my food, instead of funneling it through a faceless corporation.
After a while I become a suki, a loyal customer. Once they learn my patterns and my favorites, they start setting aside the best pickings for me, giving me good deals, even freebies. Like coupons and clearance sales, the discounts I get are initiated by the vendor. I never haggle. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it.
I feel weird haggling for a lower price because it makes me feel as if I am insulting them. I know how difficult it is to keep a family farm going, and how very little money they make compared to how much work is involved. Of course I love getting a bargain, who doesn’t? But I don’t like feeling like I pulled one over another. Because I’m fostering a relationship with people I will be buying my food from repeatedly, I like to feel a mutual appreciation between buyer and seller, instead of feeling like one of us is being lowballed.
Maybe there is a more savvy way to haggle that I’m not aware of. Do you haggle? Why or why not? How do you do it?