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Editor's Advice to Travelers:
a guide to Bargaining and Tipping

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When and Where to Bargain

Growing up in most western countries is to learn that the price of an object is not up for discussion. If you don't like the price you simply go somewhere else where the deals are better. That is about the only choice you have. Truthfully, in Nepal things are not so different most of the time. Most of the stores you will find yourself in will have written prices on all of the merchandise, restaurants will have the prices on the menu, even hotels often have the prices clearly written somewhere. In these places attempting to bargain will be uncomfortable and won't create any new friendships.  But even in these places if you are buying case loads of an item or staying in a hotel several weeks it is not rude to politely ask for a discount. Although more common in the tourist areas, this practice of writing set prices and not bargaining is actually much more common place in Nepal then in many other Asian countries.

It is not a steadfast rule however and learning when to bargain and how to bargain can mean the difference between cultivating respect or resentment.  When you go into a store notice if it is a modern establishment; does it have price tags on everything and a cash register at the check out counter?  If so then they expect you to just pay what they tell you without any fuss. If they actually have a scanner that reads the item number then you can rest assured that bargaining is completely out of the question. I have seldom experienced any restaurant expecting you to bargain over the cost of food.  If it is a small, local place and you find yourself eating there everyday, they will probably start giving you some discount or gratuity (like a free drink) all on their own and you can possibly get a 10% discount if you ask respectfully. But first consider if you really need the discount at these mom and pop shops, chances are they are just scrapping by anyway.

In a tourist shop in a tourist area the asked for price could be 2 or 3 times the amount they could actually settle for, but if you are out in the real Nepal it will seldom be higher then 50% and probably not even 20% higher then the lowest price they will take.

 

How to Bargain

"Half of what you are really doing is making a friend and enjoying that friendship."

1) Always be respectful!  Always!
Never insinuate that a place or a product is in any way second rate, even if it obviously is so. Respect is the lubricate in all Asian societies. Lubricate judiciously when ever possible.

2) Don't imply that the price is too high and you can't afford it. It just makes you appear despicable and will not get the price any lower. If you actually do find yourself broke in Nepal this is something that must only be divulged with the greatest humility in a very hushed voice.  Actually depending on these wonderful human beings in a time of real need will humble you for the rest of your life.

My Method

After years of living and traveling around Asia, purchasing for a retail business in the US. I came up with this method which never fails to impress locals at my ability to get the lowest price:

When I shop at those places where bargaining is clearly part of the expectation I choose a common item that many of the shops have and ask 4 or 5 of the shops how much the item is.  Don't start bargaining!  Just ask how much is it? (If you reach a bargain you are obligated to buy the thing!) Remember what they say and go on.  In this way you will get a feel for what the real price is and how much beyond that price some shops are willing to ask.
   When you find a store with a good starting price and they are treating you with respect, go back and do a bit of your shopping there.  Asking for bottom dollar is more reasonable the larger the quantity of things you buy.
  When the shopkeeper shows you the tally of items you have chosen to buy, you will hopefully have done a tally of your own so you know just how much discount he is already offering you.
  Now you can tell the shop keeper that you really like his store and the quality of his goods, that you like doing business with him; you don't want to go to another shop to buy your things.  This goes against most bargaining instincts, you are after all appearing to give away your bargaining chips; but it is very disarming and puts you on his side of the fence.  Hopefully this is all true anyway.
    Now is why you need to have done your homework and gotten a good idea what the best price is that you can hope to get, say 20% to 40% lower then the best prices you could find just asking around before you chose your store.  You should probably shoot for about 40% less then what he first told you his price was. If he has already offered you 20% less then what he started with, say something like this: "This is a reasonable price friend, but I am hoping that because I am buying so many things that you would take ___ "(offer 30% less then his current price).  Probably he will come back with another 10% discount. 
   You are in the ball park now and you may choose to just take this price.  But if you are buying a large amount of things, go for the extra 10% by saying: "yes, that is better but how about ___" (offer 10% less) "will you take this much?  Then we can both be happy!"

This is, of course a general rule that will have to be modified to the situation.  But the idea should be clear enough: Be friendly. Treat the shopkeeper and his goods respectfully and don't get serious.  Half of what you are really doing is making a friend and enjoying that friendship.

Tipping

Discretion and Honor

You may already have heard that tipping is not customary in Nepal.  Largely this has been true, lately it is becoming more expected especially in the cities. There is a deeper understanding of tipping that is worth going into here.

In general Nepali people expect themselves and others to help each other when they can.  There is honor in the opportunity to do service for another.  This beautiful attitude extends into the service jobs at restaurants and hotels etc.

Bear in mind though that when someone does you an especially generous service, I say "when" as someone will, almost certainly, at some time humble you with their generosity; don't hesitate to discreetly show some generosity in return. Not being discreet can ruin what honor there was in the act. There is nothing wrong with cash but bear in mind that most laborers are making $2 to $5 a day.  Giving a gift to a family who has been particularly helpful is nice, but men should not give a gift to another man's wife though a gift to their children is always safe. Again, men and women!, avoid any possibility of sexual advance in your gift giving.  Actually, avoid this all of the time under all circumstances; it will just make things uncomfortable. Talking about sex, even circuitously, is just not done between sexes; it will almost always lead to misunderstanding and loss of respect.

salesman Lakeside pokhara nepal, Travelers Annapurna

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