The Ugly American: 3 Successful Ways to Haggle Abroad

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1. Be Insulting

I once witnessed a young backpacker harangue a Florence vendor until he sold her one of those airbrushed aprons that, when donned, made it appear as though the wearer boasted the magnificent crotch of DiVinci’s statue of David—truly a wondrous souvenir that one. I’d seen it earlier with a €20 price tag, which I thought was a tad extravagant for a pseudo pornographic kitchen accessory that desecrated one of the most amazing artistic accomplishments in the history of man (But dang! That penis!). Anyway, I watched in awe as the vendor professed to have been so insulted at the young woman’s paltry bid that he swore his whole family would have to fall over backwards and have a heart attack right there on the spot. But in the end she held firm at a seriously offensive fraction of what he was asking and he, like, I swear to God, sold it to her.

2. Be Genuinely Broke

Recently I got totally hosed by a cab driver in Shanghai when he charged me so much for a 10-minute cab ride that I could have seriously paid for a Costa Rican facelift with the same sum. Anyway, it probably served me right because: A) like an idiot I hadn’t factored the local exchange rate before I got in his car; and B) my destination was the famed seven-floor “Fake Center,” where I aimed to buy a bunch of designer knockoffs made from the tears of enslaved toddlers. So, long story short, because the cab driver took all my money, I had very little left when I entered the said buzzing Dante’s Inferno of Evil Industry Built Upon the Backs of Dead Babies. So when a vendor said, “Make me an offer,” I had no choice but to name a price that was within my means (a.k.a. impossibly low), and to my utter astonishment I actually walked out with a couple of completely useless fake-designer trinkets that I then promptly left in the backseat of the next cab back to my hotel.

3. Be Magnanimous and Just Pay the Price They Ask

It’s not that much, is it? Once you factor the exchange rate, you’re probably talking maybe a buck or two saved after bargaining, and this out of the pocket of someone who provides for her family by hocking tacky souvenirs off a hot sidewalk all day. And, Christ, do you really need that wooden bottle opener carved into the shape of two giant tits? Or that beach towel “ironically” emblazoned with Confederate flags? Or that coin purse in the shape of a cat’s face? Or that souvenir ceramic spoon rest? (By the way, what the hell is a spoon rest?) Or that bobble-head dashboard hula dancer? Whatever it is that you think you can’t live without, it will instantly lose its luster once you get home, eventually ending up in a yard sale of your own some years down the road, when some insensitive buyer will offer you a seriously offensive fraction of what you’re asking and you’ll, like, I swear to God, sell it to them.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.