7 Helpful Tips for Bargaining in Cameroon
Ralph Waldo Emerson may not have been referring to paper bead earrings and hand-sewn wrap skirts when he wrote, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not,” but that doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to a few choice souvenirs on your next voyage. And it certainly does not mean you should have to pay top dollar for them.
There’s a theory that you’re either good at bargaining or you’re not, but I know from personal experience that the best bargainers are made, not born. And with this guide, soon you’ll be among their ranks.
7 Tips for Bargaining in Cameroon
1. Start by “Talking the Talk.”
This one is basic: whenever possible, speak the local language. I find this applies not just to the words you say, but the way you say them; Pidgin English, for example, is as reliant on sound effects, gestures, and rhythm of speech as vocabulary. One of the most effective expressions here in Cameroon is “Mama, that na over dear!” (That is too expensive!) After you’ve settled on a price, to get more bang for your buck, you can always request a dash, as in,”You go dash me some fine ting?” (Can you give me something extra on top of my purchase to encourage me to buy from you again?) Once you’ve got, at minimum, some key phrases down, you’re ready to Be proactive.
2. Be proactive.
They say that the best defense is a good offence. Befriending my town’s market mamas has been one of my most effective cost-saving measures as a Peace Corps Volunteer. (That and not having running water or access to ice cream.) It’s a tricky balance to strike: you never want to make anyone feel like they have your guaranteed patronage; a little competition doesn’t hurt. But being friendly to the vendors – asking about their day, their children, their business, and greeting them even on days when I have nothing to
buy – endears me to them. They wouldn’t cheat their daughter, would they? After you’ve developed this rapport, you’re ready to ask about some prices and respond with some Mock Shock.
3. Mock shock.
You say weti?! No matter what the original price quote is, divide it by four: that’s your counter-offer. If you’re feeling confident and your cheeks are ready to charm, try to Ask and you shall receive. If you’re in a low energy kind of mood, Let me think about it. Feeling sassy? Go for a So you want to send me back to the village?
4. Ask and you shall receive.
This one comes courtesy of my Peace Corps mate, Ben. Ben is prolific at getting hotel prices down – hotel prices! Until I met Ben, negotiating hotel prices seemed to me something you just don’t do, like sitting in the row of the bush taxi with the chicken or wearing safari pants in the big city. When Ben is in the market for veggies, he gives his winningest grin and says, “Mama, I beg: can you make a better price?” And who woulda thunk it: it works more than it doesn’t. If she’s not having it, though, it
might be time to invoke the Foreigner price. When this won’t do, try some more Mock Shock.
7 Tips for Bargaining in Cameroon.
5. Let me think about it.
Here’s what you have to keep in mind: you have the power. If you walk away, even if you claim to be “thinking about it” or promise to “be right back,” chances are the vendor’s lost you. As long as you’re standing in front of her, she can use her cunning bargaining know-how to entice you; the second you leave, her options are exhausted. She wants to keep you there. If walking away doesn’t do the trick, it might be time to invoke some Foreigner price; if you fear that your relationship may have been damaged irreparably by your empty threats of desertion, try to win her back by joking with So you want to send me back to the village?
6. Foreigner price.
Be savvy. Shop with a local whenever you can, and when you can’t, just pretend to be one. My personal favorite line might be, “I know that’s the foreigner price. But what’s the price for the true Cameroonians? Because me? I am a true Cameroonian.” (Repeat as necessary in French and Pidgin English; see Talk the Talk.) If things get too heated, try So you want to send me back to the village? If you’re feeling like you’re getting closer to success, try again to Ask and you shall receive. Feeling frustrated? Take a second to Let me think about it.
7. So you want to send me back to the village?
This one is rarely effective in actual price reduction, but is always good for comic relief. When the stakes have been raised, sometimes you feel like a monster, so I like to joke, “So you want to send me back to the village?” This is a common hyperbolic line for Cameroonians – the implication being that the price is so steep it will destroy their finances and make them return, with their tale between their legs, to the village where they were raised. For many Cameroonians, village is poverty, city is prosperity. After this little laugh break, though, it’s time to get back to business; try Foreigner price or Let me think about it.
My personal favorite place to bargain is at the frippery — the area of the market that sells secondhand clothes shipped from the United States and Europe. I’m such a frequent visitor that when I show up, the vendors greet me and immediately begin digging through their piles of clothes to find maxi skirts, gray tank tops, and H&M dresses — they know my style. Because the clothing comes shipped in large bags, the vendors never know exactly what they’re getting when they buy wholesale, so retail prices are never fixed.
7 Tips for Bargaining in Cameroon.
Whenever I pick something up and am quoted a price, I pretended to be personally offended. “Mama, you cannot make a better price?” I ask. “I am your daughter!” I point out that I’m from here, une vraie Camerounaise (real Cameroonian). I cannot afford that price without being forced back to my village (pause for laughter). I say I’ll think about it, and make the motions of walking away. And I end up with a wardrobe full of clothes that I may have owned in high school; many of my proudest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer involve scoring really cute Zara tops for 300 FCFA (sixty cents).
As they say in Cameroon, du courage! And when you’re picking out that beautiful and inexpensive painted bean necklace and sipping on a half-priced mango juice, cheers to negotiation!
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