The Art of Bargaining

Judy gave us a dramatic lesson in the art of bargaining this morning over breakfast. She began by saying, “Some of you may already be very good at bargaining from yard sales and flea markets. Others are terrified of bargaining, and think, ‘I’ll just pay the first price,’ but bargaining is expected in Bali.”

This was the rest of her very entertaining lesson:

The basis of bargaining is not who wins. It’s getting to know the person you’re buying from and letting them get to know you, so that they decide to give you a good price. In between talking about price, you talk about your families and where you came from. Bargaining isn’t about a sale; it’s a way to make a new friend.

Bargaining is a game; and it’s an above board game. People are very theatrical. They bargain smiling, and they don’t get upset.

The first essential thing when you want to purchase something is to have an idea of how much it’s worth. You can ask other people what they paid for things. This is considered rude in the US, but it’s perfectly acceptable in Bali. If you know what the price should be, you walk in with ammunition—you know what the item is worth. You might even beat the price your friend got.

Parga means price. Sometimes items will be marked fixed price. That means no bargaining.

Parga Pagi is the morning price. It’s the lowest price of the day. A shopkeeper has blessed her shop and set out her goods and has just opened up for business. Her first sale blesses the rest of her day with abundance. So if you are her first customer of the day, she gives you the parga pagi. She will take the rupiah you pay her and dust the goods in the shop and tuck it in her shrine.

Parga Bali is the local price. That’s what you want to get. You don’t want to pay the Parga Tamu (the tourist or guest price).

Here’s how a typical bargaining session will go: As a savvy shopper, you look through a shop, casually wandering around. When you find the object of your dreams, you don’t reveal your interest or desire to the shopkeeper. In a very off-hand way, you say, “Berapa Harga ini?” (What’s the price?)

She gives you the price (and if you don’t understand the numbers in Indonesian, have her write it on a piece of paper) and you gasp or collapse into the nearest chair. And you say, “Mahal!” (Expensive)

She comes back with, “Tidak, murah!” (No, cheap!) Then she’ll ask you in words or in gestures, “What’s your price?”

Come back with half of the price. She’ll come back with something like, “Me, bankroot!” (me bankrupt).

All the time, you’re both smiling and enjoying the theatrical interaction.

That’s when you get to the “walkaway.” Make a gesture like empty pockets, shrug and smile and walk away slowly. And then hope she comes after you. Most times she will. If not, there’s always another shop with a similar item and another chance to try your hand at bargaining.

Judy’s presentation had us all laughing and made those of us reluctant to bargain at least a little more willing to make it our risk for the day.

Bali Fact for Today: The second most common occupation in Bali is artist.

Scroll to Top