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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shopping a la Mexicana

(photos: Michelle Richmond)
Centuries ago the Aztecs established an event, known as Tianguis ("marketplace" in Nahuatl), launching a cultural phenomenon known as regateo (bargaining), which lingers to this day throughout Mexico.  

Open-air markets were set up on different days and in distinct areas of Tenochtitlán - as the ancient capital of Mexico was known - providing locals not only with vegetables and basic foodstuffs, but also a social happening.

Legend has it that it was here that marriages were arranged, sacrifices plotted and – best of all – where bargains were bountiful. Often, goods were bartered, but when prices were quoted, counter-offers were made and the sport began. 

Whether fact or fiction, the art of regateo remains a basic fiber of life today in markets throughout the country.

A good rule of thumb is that most handicraft stores (unless government-run) are open to haggling and markets specializing in handicrafts expect it. Think of it as a quasi-national sport, one Mexicans relish con mucho gusto (much pleasure), so indulge yourself and you’ll walk away richer for the experience.

Mexico is a mecca for shoppers and whether you’re inclined to embark on a shopping spree or not, you may find yourself caught up in a frenzy of buying. Shopping here is so varied and wonderful that it is virtually impossible for even the most blasĂ© traveler – male or female – to return home empty handed.

With this thought in mind, you should take at least one empty suitcase with you when traveling south of the border as temptations can be found at every turn.

In larger cities such as Mexico City you'll find items from around the world tucked into sleek shopping malls, famous-name boutiques, swank galleries and trendy designer shops but you will find the “real” Mexico in other places.  
Rustic markets bursting with handicrafts, workshops where glass, silver or candles are creatively fashioned and shops – often government sponsored - specializing in artesanias (handicrafts) beckon.
The brightly colored treasures are true works of art and well worth the experience of exploring the soul of Mexico. 

If You Go:

Following are some tried and true bargaining techniques in Mexican mercados. Find one that works, perfect it – and go for it. Don’t feel guilty. After all, this sport was started by the ancient tribes of Mexico.
  • Ask for the price; make a counter offer, acting somewhat disinterested. Move slowly away, glancing longingly at the object of your “affection.” When you hear a price you like, focus and start serious negotiations.
  • Walk determinedly into the shop, make a quick scan of the merchandise, then do some fast, no nonsense dickering. You’ll get better deals when buying in bulk.
  • Clench teeth firmly, pick up the object of your desires, clinging to it tenaciously until you hear a price you like. Keep on countering until you wear the clerk out.
  • Looking vaguely bored, ask for the price, giving a disdainful snort when it is quoted. Move slowly out of the shop, hoping the clerk will follow with a better offer. If not, swallow your pride and start from scratch.
  • If you don't hear a price you like, just keep on walking. Chances are you'll find the object of your desire - at a better price - in a nearby stall.

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