By Kirby Vickery from the August 2017 Edition
I know from experience that shopping for anything in the States usually comes down to you having to pay the asking price or, according to the seller, “You can get it somewhere else!” Oh sure you can ask for a bargain here and there if you’ re out in the middle of someone’s lawn or garage sale. Or, when you’re looking in some half empty bins of corn in the far reaches of heart land where they hardly speak the same English. But, overall, most of the prices you find are set in stone. It’ s the same way in Canada from what I understand. I read someplace that the sales clerks in England actually become insulted should you question anything about the marked price. Now in Mexico, it is a whole different story.
Mexico has gone through some radical shopping changes over the past twenty to thirty years. I can remember my father dickering with a waiter over how much the restaurant was going to charge us for our meal. I grew up dickering over prices for things in Mexico. The last thing that I bought across the border from Texas was a hand-tooled holster for a pistol.
I can remember looking around for a leather goods shop and happened to hear a shop owner selling some lady really hard over a horse blanket. She never batted an eye at his pricing and dug down deep into her strapped on purse to dig out the money. As soon as they were through with their transaction and her blanket was all wrapped up, I sauntered over and asked the guy the pricing for a blanket just like hers. He promptly gave me the same price and I just looked at him and offered to buy it for about half his price. He was still making a lot of money for the blanket and accepted it. It was half wrapped when I started to walk away and the faces fell off this lady and her friend.
Shopping in Mexico today can be just as fun. I say ‘can be’ be-cause if you wander into any of the larger department stores like Ley or some of the imports like Home Depot, WalMart, or even Radio Shack, you will find their marked prices as rock hard as any in the States. I wouldn’t try changing any prices in any restaurant either for another item on sale. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a street vendor or a five-star eatery.
The one place that actually depends on your bargaining power is the traveling market or “Tianguis”. It is ‘Old Style’ and moves every day of the week to a new location. What happens is these folks set up a few tables with tent coverings and lay all
their wares out on them. Some are priced with little tags but most aren’t. They have everything for sale, and I mean every-thing. I’ve purchased most of the gifts I bring back from Mexico for my friends and family in these markets. Ewa likes to stock up on her veggies and spices in them. Do we dicker about the price? Sometimes we do and its fun. I’ve had some shop keepers come up to me from one week to the next and ask how I’m doing while greeting me like a long-lost brother. The caution here is that you get what you pay for and all sales are final.
This type of goods selling is ‘old world.’ I can remember market day in Glyfada, Greece (a suburb of Athens) where you had better eat the bread you purchased almost as soon as you got home because that afternoon you can use the loafs as bats for baseball practice. And they also had the ‘Plaka’ which has narrow streets and shops spilling out almost to the middle of those streets. Damascus, Beirut, Alexander and Cairo were all the same.
I have found, along the border, you are a chunk of meat to be smiled at as they are sizing up the size of your wallet. These markets in the interior are just as friendly, if not more, and treat you quite well, actually. This especially goes with the produce vendors. I know they don’t know me from Adam but several knew Freda and I’ve seen them come around the table to greet Ewa. I like that kind of thing.
From the other side of things, there is another technique used down here that comes from what we consider a necessity. It is the technique of completely buying a vendor out of some-thing you’ve been looking for. The reason you do this is be-cause the law of supply and demand kinda skates along its own border. I do this with my insulin and will always wonder if I have to and I’ve seen Ewa do it too, although getting her to admit to it is something else again.
There is a fear in all expats that you won’t have some little item you really want because you’re probably one of six or seven people looking for it. After you find it, you want it. So, why not stock up on it. What do you care if no one else can get it? I mean, that’s their hard luck, isn’t it? “Hey Señor, how much of a deal can you offer me if I buy all of these?” And then, a couple of days later, while playing cards, you mention sorta off hand, “Gee, Marge, I wish I had known you were looking for those things. Señor Ramos had some in the other day. Have you tried him? Don’t worry about it if he’s out. I can spare a couple for you.” Although I abhor the term “Gringo,” sometimes we all wear it oh-so-well.
There is one other aspect of shopping in Mexico that I find particularly inviting and it works very well for any home improvement or other mechanical item you can’t find. That’s when Señor Ramos sympathizes with you about not having something nor being able to get it for you. Then he pops up and offers to make it for you. From places in the North like Toronto, Boston, and Anchorage, people say the people in tropical countries are supposed to be kinda lazy. In Mexico, I have found them to be very industrious, inventive and very skilled with their hands. If you are honored enough to get something made for you, please know that it will be the best of the best.
Kirby was born in a little burg just south of El Paso, Texas called Fabens. As he understand it, they we were passing through. His history reads like a road atlas. By the time he started school, he had lived in five places in two states. By the time he started high school, that list went to five states, four countries on three continents. Then he joined the Air Force after high school and one year of college and spent 23 years stationed in eleven or twelve places and traveled all over the place doing administrative, security, and electronic things. His final stay was being in charge of Air Force Recruiting in San Diego, Imperial, and Yuma counties. Upon retirement he went back to New England as a Quality Assurance Manager in electronics manufacturing before he was moved to Production Manager for the company’s Mexico operations. He moved to the Phoenix area and finally got his education and ended up teaching. He parted with the university and moved to Whidbey Island, Washington where he was introduced to Manzanillo, Mexico. It was there that he started to publish his monthly article for the Manzanillo Sun. He currently reside in Coupeville, WA, Edmonton, AB, and Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, depending on whose having what medical problems and the time of year. His time is spent dieting, writing his second book, various articles and short stories, and sightseeing Canada, although that seems to be limited in the winter up there.