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  • Writer's pictureJewish Examiner

Bargaining, a religion, art or science?

This past weekend, I left the hip and trendy Tel Aviv, riding a bus east to the old city of Jerusalem.

Upon entering Jaffa Gate, one side of the fortress walls that surrounds the inner religious sites of Jerusalem, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of shops crowding both sides of the cobblestone streets. I guess I was surprised to see that Jerusalem, one of the most religious sites in the world, was highly consumerized.

The stand had bowls of every shape and design, flowery cashmere scarves, t-shirts that said “I ❤ JLM” and glass Hamsa ornaments. One shop glowing with colorful bowls caught my eye. I walked in and was immediately flanked by one of the owners. He grinned and proceeded to ask me to choose “whatever I want”. I give him a curt nod and fought hard not to blurt, “Yes, that’s what I was doing.”

As I picked up one bowl after the other, the shop owner pointed to each and said, “Ah, very nice, very good, very cheap.” Just then, a couple from Ecuador walked into the shop and he left me to work his marketing magic on them. With space to think for myself, I finally settled on two bowls for my parents, and began planning how to bargain for the price.

Jerusalem may be a holy place, but its shop prices were sinfully inflated.

The 50 shekels starting price for the bowls was way more than I intended to pay for. When I hear vendors claim the price for a small “real diamond” necklace is 50 shekels and an ordinary scarf is 90, I know there’s a good chance that I’m being scammed.

For those who want to buy small trinkets from Jerusalem’s, or any cities’s street stands, bargaining is a necessary skill to have. Here are three tricks to negotiating the best price from these souvenir shops.

I. Cut down their offered price.

Make sure to cut down the price by at least half, or if you’re bold, 60–70%. For example, if something is 60 shekels, say you’ll pay 20 or 30 shekels for it.

II. If you’re buying two items, wait to pull out the second item later.

It’s like a secret weapon, giving you the ability to place conditions on the seller — if he is more generous, than you will buy more from him.

III. The most important thing to remember is that you can always walk away.

Don’t walk into a stand looking like you really want an item. Stroll around a little. If you can, find what you’d want to buy quickly. Don’t spend too much time deciding what to buy. If he gives you too high of a price, tell him that the stand down the street offers the same thing for half his price. If he doesn’t budge from his price, leave the shop. See if he calls after you — if he does, great, head back slowly. If he doesn’t, continue down the street. As Edna Mode perfectly puts it: “never look back, darling, it distracts from the now.”

From my bargaining with the Jerusalem vendor episode, I was able to purchase a hand-crafted and hand-painted large bowl and plate for 30 shekels (less than 10 dollars). The original price would have been 60 or 70 shekels. The owner clearly gets the products for less, so he’s still making a profit, and I as the consumer am still “gaining” by saving money from bargaining to a more reasonable price. The shekels saved add up in the long run.

Bargaining may not be a religion, but it is an art. There’s no exact right way to do it, only general guidelines and tips. The more times you do it, the better you get at it. Sometimes you feel like you’ve just won a hundred dollars, other times you feel frustrated and cheated on. It can be the most uncomfortable thing to do and the greatest way to build confidence. It teaches you to stay true to your beliefs, make decisions under pressure, and learn to say no. Most importantly, it teaches you not to look back when things don’t work out the way you planned.

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