I am American. No, that is not an apology, merely a statement of fact. By and large, Americans do not haggle. Heck, most Americans probably have either never heard of the word or, if they have, they didn’t know what it meant when they heard it.
Out of love for my American brothers and sisters, let me explain: Haggling is a verbal sparring match--normally a good-natured sparring match--between you and a person who is selling an item you wish to purchase. The main rule you have to keep in mind when engaging in haggling is the same rule you use in a staring contest: whoever gives in first, loses.
European vendors are WAY into haggling! To them, even if you buy something from their booth, shop, or stand, if you didn’t haggle with them, there is almost a sense of disappointment about them. Worse, you have just lowered yourself in their eyes. In fact, other than clothing choice, one of the main methods of spotting an American tourist is their acceptance of high prices and their inability to engage in the fine art of haggling.
Me? I’m a champion haggler! If there were some kind of medal for it, I'd at least be bringing home the silver. How did I become so good at this sport? I do a lot of traveling abroad and my keen observation skills have made me pick up on this European talent. Well, okay, and a nice little old lady in Italy named Mrs. Del Mastro (who I still stay in contact with) took me aside and explained that I wasn’t supposed to just pay the asking price for the cameo I wanted to buy from her. Oh, no, no, no! I was supposed to haggle! She sat me down in the rear of her shop and made her son go get us a gelato (and later, a limoncello).
Over the next few hours, I not only learned her family's history in making cameos, I also learned all about the fine art of haggling! Then, almost as important as the first two lessons, I also learned that limoncello is way better than Long Island Iced Teas. Way better.
After I left her shop, I was meandering around and saw a street vendor near Termini in Roma. He had a canvas shoulder bag I wanted. He saw the clothes I was wearing and smiled a big I‘m-about-to-rape-your-wallet-you-stupid-American smile. I pointed to the bag I liked and asked him how much (in Italian no less! Ha! Thanks to Mrs. Del Mastro, I was the shit!). Do you know, he had the flippin' nerve to ask eleven Euro for it (okay, so, before being 'schooled,' I wouldn't have known he had nerve…).
Fresh with the knowledge I'd gained and feeling just a lit-tle bit cocky, I replied with the are-you-on-crack eyebrow raise (Mrs. Del Mastro said facial expression and hand gestures are important). Then I told him I'd pay three. Well!!! With the reaction he had to my offer, you’d have thought I told him I wanted to sacrifice his first born son on a Satanic altar. On the steps of the Vatican. During a Latin Mass. At Easter.
Obviously, he told me 'no way'--in more ways than just the Italian word for 'no' (which is: 'no'). Butttttt....he did end up suggesting eight. Though even that concession came with some wild hand gestures and a facial expression that said he questioned my sanity.
Well, I'm no wuss who gives in at the first sign of someone thinking I'm crazy. So I still told him no. “Three, I’ll pay three,” I said. He proceeded to rattle something off rapidly, in Italian--something I had no way of following and, that I’m almost positive questioned my parentage--while showing me all of the "extras" my Italian Dollar Tree booger-green canvas bag came with.
Now, here's where the women are separated from the boys. Remember: the trick to winning at haggling is that you cannot blink--you have to be willing to walk away; even if it's something you want really badly. If it helps you to be able to walk way, think of it like this: a.) someone else is probably selling the same item in another location and you can go there if you absolutely need to, or, b.) you can always come back to the same location tomorrow.
So. Remembering that I wasn’t allowed to show weakness, I looked at the vendor as if I was insulted, shook my head "no," and walked away from his stand. All the while, he was still going off in Italian about something to do with pigs, dogs, and my lineage (I’m sure that’s what he was saying…). Fifteen or twenty steps away? I heard the magic words. “Three! Okay! I take three!”
Bingo! Yes! I did that! Me! Ha-HA! I WON!!!
During this portion of the game, it is important you not do the Super Bowl Happy Dance. It is not only rude and unsportsman-like, it is showing the opponent that you really had no idea what the hell you were doing (in which case, he's going to feel stupid at being beaten by a novice. An American novice, at that). So I nonchalantly walked back, gave him his money and took my prize. When I looked at the vendor, his facial expression accused me of attempting to starve his children. But his eyes? His eyes said he had enjoyed our match as much as I did.
I walked away thinking, “Man that was fun!!!” I was so happy with my little three-Euro-bag, you’d have thought George Clooney had just asked me to marry him!
I’ve been working my way through European countries toward Haggling Stardom ever since!
Of course, the people who hold garage sales in America seem to have no appreciation for this awesome talent I’ve acquired, but hey, it doesn’t stop me from trying!
So, haggle, my American brothers and sisters! Haggle! You, too, can become a champion haggler! Just imagine the changes we could make in this country if we all started haggling rather than just accepting the high cost of living we’re presented with.
Causes Kati Kline Supports
Operation Smile, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, and, doing my part to help the less fortunate (whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself).