I used to think there were three price-levels in Jordan:
- The price for tourists and wealthy foreigners
- The price for foreigners who can bargain
- The local price.
One of my best purchasing moments came when I figured out how to bypass all the super nice phones that shopkeepers like to sell foreigners and by a 15JD no-frills model that suits me just fine and gets a nod of approval when I tell any local how much I paid for it. Its as if they are taking note, “here is a foreigner who has his wits about him, it’s going to be hard to take advantage of him!” (I wish!)
However, now I realize now that the prices here aren’t strictly: dumb foreigner, smart foreigner, & local. Here’s a story to illustrate my point.
Buying a phone charger
After graduation we were riding back to our apartment with our regular taxi driver. He takes us to school every morning and runs us around on special errands when needed. He’s a family man who has been driving taxi in Amman for almost 20 years. We pay him well, but he treats us very well and trust him 100%. He’s been a good source of Arabic practice (99% of our interaction is in Arabic), cultural insight and practical help in the last 9 months. He’s kinda like an uncle to us and we really appreciate him.
Anyways, my wife reminded me that we needed a new charger for our cell phones, so I asked our friend if he knew of a place to buy one between where we were and our home.
“Brahim, of course! I know a place in WaHidat.”
(He always calls me Brahim – short for Ibrahim. And WaHidat is the Palestinian refugee camp near our neighborhood.
Me: “You are fine taking us there?”
Him: “Of course, but you should have told me before. I have 5 chargers in my house.”
Me: “Thanks. You are very good, but it doesn’t matter, we can buy one in WaHidat. It will just take a minute.”
Him: “No Brahim, you are very good. It is no problem. You are welcome here.”
As we drove on we had a good laugh. The word for charger is “shaHin” but I kept saying “SaHin” which means plate.
When we got to waHidat our taxi friend said, “Ok, please give me your phone. Because you are a foreigner they will give you a bad price.”
I handed him the phone and 10 JD. If I was in West Amman I might expect to pay 8 or 9 JD, but here I figured it would cost 4 or 5 JD. I asked if I could go with him and he said , “Of course, but Brahim please do not speak.” LOL – there’s a good commentary on my level of Arabic!
As with many things for sale here in Amman there were a number of phone shops clustered together on one corner. We went to the first one and our taxi friend asked about a charger. He obviously entered into negotiations with the shopkeeper on the price. It ended with the Arabic sign for “no” on the part of my friend. This is a tilt up of the chin with a cluck of the tongue. Yeah it sounds and looks rude to Americans but here it’s the equivalent to shaking your head side-to-side.
I asked how much the shopkeeper wanted, “2.5 JD – expensive!” I laughed because I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
We went to 4 more shops but none of them had the charger we needed. In the fifth shop sat a man in traditional garb with a long beard and muslim hat. There were no negotiations here, just a straightforward asking for a charger, examining of the phone and exchange of goods and money. As he handed back my phone, change, and new charger I asked how much it was.
“1.5 JD. That’s a normal price.”
We both laughed.
In the last 9 months I had thought I had made a lot of progress away from getting ripped off as a foreigner. In some places (like Carrefour and Cozmo) the prices are fixed and there’s no bargaining. But on a lot of other things here there seems to be plenty of room to negotiate. Upon further reflection on stories like this one, I’ve revised my theoretical price-levels to the following:
- The price for tourists and wealthy foreigners
- The price for foreigners who speak Arabic
- The price for foreigners who can haggle
- The price for wealthy locals (may be equal or more than the one above)
- The price for working class locals
That being said it’s difficult to make hard and fast rules on this. Some things have negotiable prices (furniture, housewares, appliances, electronics, apparently cell phone chargers), but other things (like food, medicine, water) don’t. Some shopkeepers seem to negotiate, others not so much. If you know a shopkeeper well, you are better off assuming he is giving you his best price rather than insult him by negotiating.
After the purchase of the cell-phone charger it made me think – am I getting ripped off by paying 4 JD for something my local working class friend can get for 1.5 JD? Or is he getting a well-deserved break on the price? Should my goal as a comparatively wealthy (for Jordan, not by US standards) foreigner be to get the cheapest local price all the time, or is it valid for me to pay a little more because my wallet can bear it and the shopkeeper needs it more than I do? Are foreginers who haggle seen as culturally saavy or cheapskates? Let me know what you think!
Filed under: culture, Jordan | Tagged: Amman, Arab Culture, Arab Culture, cross-cultural adaptation, cross-cultural experiences, Crossing Cultures, culture, Intercultural Notes, Jordan, Local Life, Money, Money & Wealth, question | 5 Comments »