When you shop at a traditional market, you’re expected to bargain. Everyone does. But there’s a way of doing it. Here are some things you should keep in mind.
Visitors to Ubud’s market at the top of the Monkey Forest Road will enter a honeycomb of stalls and small shops with goods spilling into the street, none of which are marked with fixed prices. Vendors call out to invite you to “come look at my shop”. If you stop to browse, you’ll get the full pitch. If you’re not interested in buying anything, just smile politely and, if necessary, say “No, thank you.”
On the other hand, if there’s something you’d like to buy, you’re likely to get a better price if you don’t give yourself away too early. Show some interest in something else — then casually come back to the thing you really want.
The first price you hear is not the final sale price. Expect it to drop by as much as thirty to fifty percent. The vendors are not out to cheat you. It is the custom for vendors to start high and work their way down to a price that you and they can agree on. This entails some play-acting on both parts: you pretending that you don’t want that particular woodcarving, and the vendor pretending imminent ruin.
This is when you should examine the object very carefully. Any little imperfection can help bring the price down, especially if it is a garment. Check the seams and sewing.
But let this be a courteous play-acting. Balinese vendors appreciate good manners, and if they like you, they may be gentler in their terms. And besides, the outcome means more to them than it does to you. You’re doing this for fun; they’re doing it for a living.
Be familiar with the currency and bring cash in small denominations.
If you come to an agreement on the price, try to pay the exact amount. Most vendors will happily give change, but some may balk as a final tactic. And if you simply thrust out a fistful of bills, you will look both silly and disrespectful.
Shopping at a traditional market is an opportunity to engage with the local people. It should be a cordial encounter that is a good reflection on you and where you come from. Sometimes it is the beginning of a new friendship.