Reasons to Join Me in Bali #7: Learning to Bargain Like a Pro

Travel Writing Tip #7: In place writing, there is no such thing as a bad experience.

If you come with us to Bali, your first stop on our three-stop intinerary will be a beautiful resort perched on the Indian Ocean in Candidasa, a wonderful place to land after flying halfway around the world.

Each day at lunch, in an open air pavilion, you will savor fresh papaya, pineapple and mango salsa, fresh fish, and blended juices, and of course, since it’s Bali, rice. After our morning writing workshop, Judy Slattum, one of our intrepid tour leaders, will teach you  about offerings, the caste system and other aspects of Balinese culture, provide rudimentary language lessons, and teach you your Balinese name.

In past years, my favorite lesson has been about the art of bargaining.

Judy began by telling us that in Bali, it’s always okay to bargain. There are fixed price places-some very expensive galleries and places like pharmacies and supermarkets, but at markets, you are always expected to bargain.

Most Americans, she said, unless they’re accustomed to going to flea markets and yard sales, are not used to bargaining. “It’s expected in this culture,” she told us. “It’s not about besting anyone. It’s just what’s done here.”

Bargaining is a game and it’s all about getting to know the seller and the seller getting to know you. In our world, in our country, you go into a store, you choose what you want, you go up to the cashier and pay and then you leave the store. And its unlikely that you’d be able to say anything about the person who just sold you the goods you purchased. But in Bali, it’s all about getting to know the other person, because if they get to know you, if you become a friend, then they’ll give you a good price. And in Bali, Judy told us, the interaction should be a pleasant one that creates equal happiness on both sides. You’ve become friends because of your interaction.  

If it’s a big purchase, you spend longer with the seller. You may be offered coffee and tea. You might get into a conversation that has nothing to do about the item you want to purchase; you might start discussing where you’re from and your family. You hang out, you become friends and then you seal the deal.

To be a savvy bargainer, there is a lot of theater and play-acting. The game begins when you walk in casually, look at things here and there in the store, and act nonchalant. Then you see the thing you want, the tablecloth of your dreams. But you don’t show any interest. You might pick it up and look for flaws, sneer, sigh, and then keep going. Keep looking.

Then maybe later, come back that way, never showing any real interest. Utter the magic words, “Berapa harga ini? What’s the price? Say it without any real excitement. Don’t betray your enthusiasm. Then the shopkeeper job is to give you the price. If you don’t speak the language, she might write it on a piece of paper or communicate it by holding up her fingers. This is when the real dramatic flair kicks in.

This is when you react and gasp. You’re in shock. Your eyes roll back in your head. You collapse in a chair and feel faint. ¨How could that possibly be the price?” You say, Mahal! Expensive. Then the shopkeeper replies, “Murah.” Cheap. All the while, you’re both smiling.

Then she’ll ask you for your price. You’re still in disbelief over 10 dollars, so you say, “How about half or less?” Once you give your new price, then she reacts. She gets an instant headache. She says, “Me bankrute (bankrupt).” Then you come back with more, a little more. Or stick to your guns. And then the bargaining goes on.

Sometimes you reach an impasse. That is when you reach the final moment–the walk away. You smile, you mime emptying your pockets, and you walk away slowly. She’ll likely run after you. If she doesn’t, then that was the bottom. You either eat crow and go back or you find the item somewhere else, or you let it go.

When you pay, she’s smiling. And you’re smiling. And if it is the first sale of the day she’s going to go around dusting the furniture with the rupiah you hand her.

The bottom line is never pay the first price.

If you don’t bargain, the Balinese will think you’re really stupid. They will look down on you.

woman carrying a load


In the spirit of adventure,


Laura Davis
The Writer’s Journey

P.S. This year’s trip is filling up with some incredible people. Here’s what a few of them have to say about what they’re looking forward to next summer in Bali:

Here’s Emily, in snowy New Jersey:

And here’s Julie, who came to Scotland with me last year. She’s coming to Bali, too!

If you’d like to join Julie and Emily and and a wonderful community to welcoming writiers in Bali later this spring…there’s still time to become part of our delightful family of travelers. Sign up here!


Read more reasons to join me in Bali . . .

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