The Art: A ceramic statuette from Cancun, Mexico
When I heard about a large local arts and crafts market in the town of Cancun, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a little of what the artisans had to offer, so I headed into town, still hungover from the previous night’s tequila games on the beach. Which, as it turned out, actually sharpened my bargaining skills in the market.
Coming from the land of price tags and shopping malls, bargaining wasn’t exactly my strong suit; in fact, I was a bargaining virgin lost in a sea of statuettes, jewellery, and pottery, all of which started to look the same to me. I searched through hundreds of what looked like identical trinkets, hoping to find the unusual or something that would distinguish itself as unique in some way. I worried that I would just be wasting money on very commonplace mass-produced pieces.
Then I spotted this dusty statuette, high up on a shelf in one market stall, and was convinced that I had located the solitary piece worth bringing home.
The seller cheerfully wrapped up my precious artefact in wads of newspaper, stuffed it into a Kotex shipping box, and tied it all up with multi-coloured lengths of twine. My one-of-a-kind Mayan statuette made it home in one piece (now there’s an ad for Kotex protection!) and once installed in my Toronto living room, looked exotic, rare, distinguished, and not at all mass-produced.
The irony? The piece is not unique, of course. In fact, on a day trip to Chichen Iza later that week, our bus stopped at a gas station/souvenir shop, and there was my Mayan lady, or rather, a dozen of my Mayan ladies, all lined up on the shelf beside the Doritos and Coca-Colas.
None of which matters when I look at her now, because I had learned a valuable lesson: what looks common or ordinary because you see it often or everywhere in another country, is exactly the kind of thing that looks exotic and unusual once you get it home. And if you liked it enough to negotiate for it in the first place, chances are it’s worth it for all those reasons and more.
The Fact: Bargaining is normal in many countries and many situations, and you shouldn’t feel like you are taking advantage of anyone because you try to bring the price down. When I need to put my bargaining hat on, I always remember something that my uncle told me:
“No one will sell something for less than he paid, and nobody buys something for more than they are willing to spend.”
So, decide what something is worth to you, and let that be your final price (with or without the hangover).