Bargaining. Us Anglo's just don't get it, do we? In England about the only time we enter into any negotiation over price is when we buy a car or a house. Here' it's different. A love of the deal is part of the Levantine culture. You have to understand, and go along with it.
Price is always flexible. In practise everyday items are more or less fixed price, prices are marked (it really helps to know Arabic arabic numerals. Life is too short to haggle over a kilo of oranges. Generally people are very honest. Buying a pastry you'll tender a LE1 note and simply be handed your 50 piastres change.
Here' how it works:
1 - Who made the approach? If they approach you, you can get away. I know they're persistent, but if they speak to you first, you can terminate the transaction. Just say No. LA SHUKRAN (no thanks).
The same applies if the shopkeeper has detected some slight glimmer of interest in the wares on display. Just smile, shake you head, walk away. If you do not want it, it's worth nothing to you.
2 - So you really do want to buy something. You must have a vague idea of what the thing is worth. So look in fixed price shops such as those in hotels (probably expensive). At least you'll have a ceiling.
3 - Until you've reached a figure, you are under no obligation. Once you've reached a figure it's a done deal. A gentleman's word is his bond. Never offer a sum you are not prepared to pay.
4 - Lots of shopkeepers just like to talk. I've been invited in for shai by men selling ladies shoes or electrical goods. They knew I didn't want a fridge or a pair of fluffy pink slippers. Have an amiable discussion about international politics. It can even be the same with those in shops clearly selling tourist goods if trade is slack.
I spent 10 days in Cairo/Luxor so by the end of the trip I got a good idea of pricing for goods..
Papyrus - I paid over 200 LE for a A2 size piece on my first day.. by the last day I was getting similar quality for 25 LE each! Dont listen to shop keepers about unique pieces etc.. 99% of of artwork is mass produced (albiet by hand by lowly paid "artists"). I prefer the darker coloured items as it looks more unique. Careful not to buy printed banana paper copies - easy to tell the difference.. just put it up the the light.. real papyrus has cross-weave pattern
Perfume - around 30LE per 100g.. make sure the product is not doled up with vegetable oil.. hard to tell the difference. Real perfume should still have a detectable frangrance on your skin 12-18hrs later
Stone carvings - I bought a half metre high / 7KG beautiful alabaster vase for 110 LE.. initial price was 600! This was after hard bargaining which left the shopkeeper nearly in tears lol
Also all stones should be about the same price e.g. marble, granite, basalt or alabaster
Arabic CDs - 6-8pounds each - probably all pirated copies anyway
Egyptian cotton scarves - 20-30 LE each.. bargain hard.. if you buy say 5 or 6 you might be able to get for less
Garbalayas (traditional gowns) - 40-70 LE or 130LE for high quality cotton
Taxi - for short trips.. 1 LE a minute or 1 LE a KM... for whole day bookings 150-200LE depending on distances travelled
Camel Rides (Giza) - Local price for 1hr is 50LE so anything more than 100LE is too much
Also, budget for a tip of 50-70LE to camel handler. Its alot but since your at the giza pyramids they will hit you hard.
Bakeesh (Tips) - 5 LE for carrying bags (e.g. hotel staff), waiters, short trip taxi,tourist police
10-30LE for impromtu tour guides, all day taxi bookings
Also - If the item is under 20 LE.. its probably not worth your time bargaining. Also, to get a idea of the cost price.. bargain hard from a very low price. If you walk away and the shopkeeper does not follow you to offer your price you know your price is under his cost price. So come back later and continue the bargaining.
Most importantly.. smile and make jokes.. it tends to save me a lot of money!
Finally, these people make alot less money than you so even if you bargain the item down to very low price give a tip the sales person after paying the agreed price.
i the sook they can be quite persistent. we found these phrases particulary useful:
mafeesh fluss (i have no money)
to a very persistent man - utrukni wa schani, min fadlik (leave me alone)
ana la awadd (i dont want.....)
When buying goods in Cairo, make sure you haggle with the prices, you will notice that most things do not have a price on them. Getting a bargain is part of the game for you aswell as the seller. They always give items a high price but haggle them to the price you want to pay.
There are many things you can buy in Cairo, you will find the people in the shops are very friendly, it is normal for them to offer you a sit & a drink & some Shisha whilst you shop. This is what they do.
Im used to having to argue with street traders or taxi drivers, but this was the first time I found myself having to argue with Cafe owners over the price of a drink or refusing to eat have lunch even though I was hungry because they wouldnt give me the price everyone else was paying. They will overqoute the price for any white person even when the price is written up on the menu behind them, many will not even give you the correct price out of some racist principle but most will drop the price if you make a fuss. This problem mostly occurs around tourist attractions and is 10 times worse in resorts than in Cairo.
Prices WILL be 10 times inflated just because you're a tourist
Shopkeepers expect you to bargain and therefore have a high price set to start with, you must keep bargaining down, even if the shopkeeper tells you he can't go further, its a miracle what walking away would do (Just look at how the locals bargain!)
Most shops sell identical stuff anyway.
In many, if not most, shops, the owner will serve you before beginning business: he will ask you to be seated and make yourself comfortable; he will offer you a soft drink or tea or.... Honor the custom. Not only is it a lovely custom, but it is a wonderful way to relax and begin the transaction. Besides, no one is under any delusion that the serving of tea will guarantee a good price or even a sale. But it is civilized: something we in the West could learn from (dare I say 'profit from'?)
You will learn the word 'baksheesh' very quickly! It means 'tip' and it is natural for Egyptians to ask for it for any little service performed. If a nice man wants to show you the best place to snap a photo from he will probably expect a tip. Pushy 'tour guides' at sites will hound you as well. Inside some of the tombs there will be people stationed asking for baksheesh for you to simply take a photo inside- if you do not pay they will jump in front of your camera when you go to snap the shot.
Another cultural tip is to bargain. I was told that many vendors will actually be insulted if you pay the first price they ask for something. Bartering is an honorable art form in Egypt. Always counter a first price by at least half of what it is and work from there. Be careful not to look at things you don't want to buy either! The vendor will think you are trying to barter for it- even when you walk away. They will follow you with it. I have bought things that I really did not want simply because the vendor dropped down to such a good price!
Bargaining and bucksheesh is a way of life!
Bargaining can be useful when ordering a taxi. As a visitor you can expect to pay about twice as much as a local, but without bargaining it could be four times as much.
In Europe we would understand bucksheesh as blackmail or a bribe - basically anyone can be bought off. This can range from someone taking advantage of an unscheduled moneymaking opportunity (e.g. demanding money to allow you to do something which should be free) or an open door (allowing you to do something which maybe you shouldn't). I don't want you to think this is an excuse to break the law, but it is how we managed to get a good view of the pyramnids, even though they were 'closed'.
Walking through the street in many towns is sometimes stressy.
Street vendors are everywhere - just make the right bargain ! It is there profession - but also mine !!
So come to a win/win solution !