Bartering in Dahab

March 6th, 2012

Tourism is down here in Egypt.  This translates into 1) good prices 2) not much of a crowd and 3) individualized attention.

These all sound positive, but each have a negative too.  Take the individualized attention, for instance.  You can’t walk five feet without having someone try selling you something.  Good prices sound good, but it is bad for the locals.  Local store owners find themselves in a catch-22: desperately needing business so having to offer dirt cheap prices to stay competitive.  But since they badly need money now they try selling at even higher prices than normal to stay in business.  This translates into a lot of shameless “bait and switch.”  They’ll call out a low-ball price on something as you walk by on the street, but the second you give them the time of day the prices goes up ten-fold.

I’ve heard in Arab countries bartering is the norm.  So I was prepared for some good-natured back and forth.  However, I was not prepared for the level of persistence I’m badgered with for my business here.

Granted, the town I’m in, Dahab, is touristy.  But it gets old when nearly every shop and restaurant I pass results in me being hounded by the owner.  It’s over the top from anything I’ve experienced before.  Woe be to the person who has the gumption to enter anywhere! it will be difficult for them to exit without buying something.  Thankfully there are exceptions, but they are exceptions. 

Like I mentioned in my last post, prices here for everything (from food to lodging to adventure sports) are all cheap.  The sobering side is the sellers are desperate for business!  The Egyptian Revolution has put a whompus on tourism, and I think most here are hurting financially.  There ARE tourists in Dahab, but I’m betting the town is running around 10-20% capacity, and I’ve been told the last two months were even more dead than now. 

Regarding prices, at first I thought all the bartering was good natured, but I’m beginning to realize there’s more to it than what appears on the surface…  I may be a dense and gullible westerner, but I’m starting to feel sorry for these folks. I think they genuinely just want a customer… so they can put food on the table for their own families.

I stopped to inquire about the cost of a hamburger and the shop owner next door took the opportunity of me stopping to practically drag me into his clothing shop.  He was good-natured about it, but he REALLY wanted me to buy something.  He had some really cool stuff, so I was a sucker and ended up walking out of there with both a "Dahab” hoody and t-shirt.  I know I could have haggled him down further, but was embarrassed to go down below fair USA prices knowing how bad the situation is here.  As it was, we went down to half the price he initially was asking (and I hate haggling!)  The interesting thing to me was how sooo very happy this man (Mohammed) was I had bought something – he was practically jumping up and down!  I think we are friends for life now.

This situation is a buyers market, if you want to haggle down to the lowest dollar, one can go down a looong ways down.  I’ve seen this.

I saw one tourist barter down an item that would have cost $30 in the US from a not-so-bad starting price of $15 to about $8 (all the haggling done in Egyptian Pounds of course, but I’m converting to US currency for the benefit of the gentle reader).  At one point the shop owner began telling this guy, “Hey, at this price you win!” and, “Be reasonable,” etc – statements that may have been a ploy, but at these prices I was tempted to believe him.  Then the price went a bit lower and finally the owner got angry and said, “I don’t won’t sell it to you! and I won’t sell it to you!” and wanted him to leave.

Head scarves around here are pretty popular.  I thought it might be nice to get one, they’re ubiquitous in the touristy shops.  I’ve seen them hawked for as low as $2 (12 EGP).  So I stopped at one place and the guy showed me his scarves, then when we got around to price he started at $30! (180 EGP)  I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding.” 

I didn’t even feel like haggling if we were going to start at such a ridiculous price, but he wasn’t about to let me leave his shop, so after going back and forth awhile we got all the way down to $4, and I agreed to buy it for that, but this guy was persistent.  He now wanted me to buy two head scarves.  I tried explaining I didn’t have room in my pack, bla bla, but it was like talking to a brick wall. 

The odd thing was he wasn’t confrontational or annoying, it was like he was pleading.  And I could tell he was a nice guy.  Finally I was like, “Hey! I’m only going to buy one, but I’ll pay a bit more for it, say 30 EGP?” (about five dollars)  Then I put my arm on his shoulder and asked what his situation was?  At this his mask dropped and he started treating me more like a human.  He just sighed real big and told me there is hardly any business – he hadn’t made money today.  Apparently I was his first customer (and this was around 9pm).  I felt pretty bad, the revolution hasn’t been good for the tourist traps.  I’ve even heard a number of places have plain gone out of business.

So anyways, those are a few thoughts, for what they’re worth.

2 Responses to “Bartering in Dahab”

  1. Mary Says:

    You are such a good guy, Nickels. I really enjoyed reading the last story. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  2. Aunt Betty Hudson Says:

    Hey Sweetie and Softy. I sort of know how you feel after being in Jamaica a few times. You do get a feel for the ones who con ya, and the ones who really are hurting. But like you, I have a tendancey to fall for their stories. Most have been at it a long time. I have managed to get some good bargins on some really neat Jamaican art.
    Beware… have a great day.. xoxoxo

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