I drive a hard bargain, not just for budget’s sake but also because I feel it is my obligation towards other oyinbos to do so. If we do not get our acts together and start haggling, we will continue to get ripped off categorically, and deservedly so.
Admittedly, I was getting audacious. After watching Sola’s technique for almost two weeks, I thought I could pull it off. I had been studying his bargaining moves, how he cracked jokes in Yoruba at the right moment and pretended to be offended the next. So when he stepped out for a phone call in the second hand furniture shop, I thought I was ready.
‘Last price?’ I asked the salesman, hoping to have laid just enough authority in my voice. ‘Fifteen’ was his response. I shook my head in disbelief. When Sola came back, I couldn’t hide the hint of pride in my eyes when I told him I got the desk chair priced down to N11,000. He looked at me in shock.
‘Femke!! What did you go do that for? That chair shouldn’t have been more than 10K!’
Bargaining in Lagos requires special training and I am not about to graduate.
Moving house is a costly business. Toilet covers, painting jobs, plumbing material, and Mr. Momo the carpenter whose well-thumbed Italian IKEA catalogue I chose my super sized bed from, they all came with one special feature: their prices need to be negotiated down to half or one third of the original amount. This requires special skills, especially since prices tend to explode in Nigeria when an oyinbo comes in.
If it weren’t for Sola, a Juventus loving Nigerian friend accompanying me on most of my endeavours the past two weeks, I would have overspent tens of thousands of naira in the process.
Sola and I have developed a routine. After I have chosen the goods to be purchased, I step back and sit down on the seat I had been aggressively offered since we walked into the store (‘Madam, have your seat!’ Why people want me sitting down, I do not understand. I do not like sitting down, unless when writing or having a star lager. I like to move around.) Anyway, I take my seat, glaze over, pull my smart phone out of my bag and fiercely start pretend-tweeting.
That is when Sola makes his move and the serious bargaining starts. He is good at it. He asks: ‘Where are you from?’ And after the response he inquires: ‘Is this how they offend people in your village?’ Or he cashes in on life-long friendships – he was born around these parts and knows everyone. Once in a while, on his cue, I come in. By raising one eyebrow, stating: ‘That’s not a discount, that’s an insult.’ Or by solemnly confirming Sola’s lie that we saw the exact same ironing board in Yaba for much less money. After which I devote myself to my smart phone again.
Of course I am not really tweeting. I am paying attention and learning. One day Sola will not be around and I will have to do it on my own.
Not that I do not know how to negotiate at all. The small kobo stuff, I’ve become rather good at. When my car Wilma was not around yet, I had to learn with okada drivers and taxi men. To me, it was a sport. When I convinced a taxi driver to take me from the airport to Victoria Island for N1,500, I knew I had mastered it.
A Nigerian friend from the North who came to visit me in Lagos was once exasperated with my haggling tactics when I crossed the street, he in tow, to try another flock of okadas because of a N50 difference.
I drive a hard bargain, not just for budget’s sake but also because I feel it is my obligation towards other oyinbos to do so. If we do not get our acts together and start haggling, we will continue to get ripped off categorically, and deservedly so. Unfortunately there are too many expats in Lagos with cushiony jobs and gigantic salaries who are spoiling the market by not making an effort.
Though I am far from having perfected my bargaining skills, by now watching Sola has taught me a thing or two about haggling.
Earlier this week around Ojuelegba I saw this bright orange four pit Etna gas cooker by the side of the road. My foodie heart made a giant leap – Etna is a Dutch brand in existence for over 150 years and their cookers last a life time, unlike the Chinese crap sold here – but I hid my enthusiasm. I looked at the second hand stove with slight disdain, scratching at the edges where some of the orange paint had chipped off. The saleswoman who called me auntie. I asked if she hadn’t got anything better. She showed me the Chinese crap sold here and I feigned interest. By the time I returned to the Etna, its price had already diminished considerably.
As we finally walked away with the orange gas cooker twenty minutes later, I looked at Sola. He smiled. I knew. Today we drove an excellent bargain.
Talk to Femke on Twitter @femkevanzeijl
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