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Shopper's Tips for Foreign Bargaining : There are techniques that have proved valuable in negotiating fares and prices overseas.

April 25, 1993|LUCY IZON

It's difficult enough to try to stretch every dollar during a foreign adventure when you know what the prices are, but you don't always have that advantage.

Prices for goods and services--such as taxi rides--are often not fixed; you may have to haggle and hope you wind up paying a fair amount. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's frustrating.

One of the more amusing scenarios I've heard involves tourists who sit on camels and have their photographs taken near the pyramids in Egypt. Tourists should settle on a rate with the camel owner before climbing on, and then only pay after they get their feet back on the ground. Those that try to negotiate while sitting on the camel are at a distinct disadvantage, and may end up stuck on their animal a lot longer if the owner becomes disgruntled.

It's the same principal as negotiating a fare before you get into a taxi; if you drive away without settling on the price, you have lost some control.

Here are some other hints to help you bargain better:

* Shoppers will find that most bargaining occurs in special street markets. For example, you can haggle over sweaters in Italy, leather goods in Athens or jogging suits and silk blouses in Hong Kong. In some cities, such as Nadi, Fiji, haggling is even done in the numerous tax-free shops that sell electronic equipment.

* Try to do a little research before you begin bargaining. Start by asking other shoppers what they paid for items that you might be interested in. Watch as others negotiate purchases. Take note of the difference between the first price the seller asked and what he was willing to take in the end.

* After deciding on an item, think calmly about what it is really worth to you and keep that limit in mind.

* Before you start to bid on the item, take a close look at its quality. Many Third World markets and shops have terrible lighting. Be sure you are satisfied with the workmanship before you start bargaining.

* If you don't have any idea where to begin, try offering 50% of the amount the seller has asked for. If after several counter offers you can't agree on a price that is comfortable for both of you, try simply walking away. If the seller is eager and doesn't want to lose your business, it's likely he'll yell his acceptance of your offer or send someone to bring you back.

* Keep in mind that vendors usually bargain with cash sales in mind, so if you plan to use a credit card, make that fact known from the beginning. When a card is used, the shopkeeper has to pay a percentage of each sale to the credit card company and that cuts into his profits. If you have negotiated a low price, he may demand payment in cash.

* Don't start to bid if you are not serious about buying. If the seller meets your offer and you turn him down, an angry, intimidating scene can result.

* Be careful of scam operators who prey on polite tourists. For example, at markets in Fiji, woodcarvers may ask your name while you watch them work. In an instant they have it carved on a mask and insist you owe them money.

* If you find yourself in a country where it's the custom to negotiate taxi fares, or a necessity because most of the meters are broken, be sure to settle on a price before you get into the vehicle.

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