Life’s a Stage: Especially When You’re Bargaining

By Samantha Lewis

The culture of bargaining in Italy took me by surprise at first. In the United States, I would never think to bargain with anyone in a commercial store. I would maybe feel comfortable bargaining at a flea market but would feel most comfortable bargaining at someone’s garage sale. Here, everywhere is a chance to bargain–whether it be in a commercial store or not. A few white tents propped up in the streets can be found daily. Plus, every Sunday there is a giant flea market which covers an entire piazza. With shopping being one of my favorite pastimes, I especially enjoy exploring the flea market in the Campo di Fiori piazza. At the flea market, you can find everything from clothes, shoes, and accessories to pasta, spices, and limoncello.

Street Market

The first time I went to the flea market, I was hungry for unique, Italian dresses and got sucked into the very first tent I passed by. I ended up buying two dresses from that tent. They were worth 40 euros together, and I got them both for 32 euros which is not bad, but at the same time, I knew I could do better. I started the bargaining by asking for a price lower than what I was willing to pay. I asked him “Due vestido venti euro?” or “Two dresses for 20 euros?” He responded with a hard no. Cautiously, I went up to 25, and then 30 euros. I was not trying to buy those dresses for more than 30 euros, but then he finally said: “Okay, 32.” Since I actually wanted the dresses (and I’m sure he could tell) I was willing to give him 32 euros for both.

Bargaining in Italy is not just a deal, it is a performance. If you want a deal you have to bring the drama. In Italy, people subscribe to this philosophy of the Bella Figura, or a cutting a certain image of themselves. In order to strike a good bargain, the buyer has to act as though they do not really want the product, while the seller has to act as though they will not let the buyer have their product too easily. Confusing, right? 

I will walk you through my experience of realizing the power of Bella Figura at the flea market. Products I am actually interested in, I like to look at carefully, try it on, etc. I did the same with the dresses I liked and when it came time to buy, the seller hardly budged on his price, because he knew I was truly interested in buying. On the other hand, I walked past a table of sunglasses I did not really care about but was looking at casually while waiting for a couple of friends. I casually inquired the price, which was 15 euros, and then put them down and walked away. From behind me, I heard the man yelling “Okay, 10 euros!” This is exactly what I mean by bargaining being a performance. Even if I have a genuine interest in a product, I have to act cool and like I will walk away in order to get an actual deal.  After this realization in the flea market, I was determined to put on a show and get the price I wanted the next time I was bargaining.

While bargaining in Italy is extremely common, some sellers simply will not budge on their price. For example, another bargaining instance happened during a Sunday walking tour when one student was looking to buy a soccer jersey. We passed by three different tents/markets which sold her coveted Juventus jersey, but none would really budge on the 25 euro price. The first tent was extremely strict about not offering a discount and would not budge at all on the price. This is probably because he was selling closest to the Trevi Fountain. Since that area is so touristy, he was confident that even if we did not buy it, someone else probably would. The second market we passed was only going to give it to her for 22 euros, and that was a deal he offered at the last second when we were walking away. The third market we passed with the jersey said he did not have her size. It seems these stores had some kind of alliance where they all offered the jerseys for the same, non-bargainable price of 25 euros. One reason why this price might have been non-negotiable is that soccer is extremely valued in Italian (and European) culture. I think it is fair to make the comparison that soccer and the World Cup to Europeans is like football and the Super Bowl in the United States. Thus, any product having to do with soccer is only offered at full price because sellers know these soccer-loving people are willing to buy it at full price.  

As I said before, bargaining is mainly about the performance and keeping one’s Bella Figura. One man selling the jersey was trying to reason that he could not sell us the jersey for twenty euros because he bought it for 20 euros and would not make a profit. On the other hand, a bargaining tool I picked up on to help me is saying that I am a “studentessa” (or a student) and therefore do not have a lot of money and need the extra discount.

After five weeks in Italy, I became more comfortable with asking for a discount whenever I went shopping. I made it my mission to never buy anything at full price. Thus, when a group of us were determined to go on a boat tour together on the Island of Capri, I told them before we even got off the ferry that we had to internalize Julia’s advice and drive a hard bargain. On a mission, I led the pack to try and pay no more than 20 euros for a boat tour. Our first salesperson wanted 30 euros for a private boat, and I could not charm him, so I said “Grazie!” and walked away. “No worries, that was a practice round!” I said to the others. After a second person gave us a price that was too high, I could see the girls getting discouraged, but I urged them to keep going and not to settle. Finally, we came across a man who was offering an approximately 2-hour tour on a private boat. Eventually, we bargained the price down from 25 to 20 euros, since we were bella studentessas. He couldn’t argue with that.

Although we were planning to do the boat tour first thing, the man did not have a boat available until 2:30 pm, so we said no worries, and that we would come back. He gave us his card, and we confirmed the boat reservation for 2:30 pm.

After five weeks in Italy, I became more comfortable with asking for a discount whenever I went shopping. I made it my mission to never buy anything at full price. Thus, when a group of us were determined to go on a boat tour together on the Island of Capri, I told them before we even got off the ferry that we had to internalize Julia’s advice and drive a hard bargain. On a mission, I led the pack to try and pay no more than 20 euros for a boat tour. Our first salesperson wanted 30 euros for a private boat, and I could not charm him, so I said “Grazie!” and walked away. “No worries, that was a practice round!” I said to the others. After a second person gave us a price that was too high, I could see the girls getting discouraged, but I urged them to keep going and not to settle. Finally, we came across a man who was offering an approximately 2-hour tour on a private boat. Eventually, we bargained the price down from 25 to 20 euros, since we were bella studentessas. He couldn’t argue with that. Although we were planning to do the boat tour first thing, the man did not have a boat available until 2:30 pm, so we said no worries, and that we would come back. He gave us his card, and we confirmed the boat reservation for 2:30 pm.

Walking away from a great bargaining deal can give quite the adrenaline rush! I used to never think twice about paying full price, but now I try to haggle a deal whenever I can. I may even try it back in the states and see where it gets me.

About the Author

Samantha Lewis is a fourth-year dance major who is also minoring in horticulture. She loves learning about other ways of life and this trip has been an amazing opportunity for her to truly immerse herself in Italian culture. Sam hopes to use this experience to inspire her artistry and infuse concepts she has learned over the duration of this course into her upcoming works. Come January, she will be auditioning for various professional modern and contemporary dance companies. Here, she is seen sporting a new dress she bargained for at the flea market.

FINE

 

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