Seven Things I Learned about Negotiating in India

This guy means business.I’ve been musing a lot about my experience traveling in India at the end of 2013, and yeah, I guess I learned about some history and culture and shit, but really, the main thing I learned was how to get a good price on a hemp t-shirt. Before we landed in Delhi I was pretty helpless when it came to negotiation. Here are the things I’ve learned:

1. Remember that nothing is unique. Every tourist town has about a dozen different versions of the same shop with all the same goods, so pop in to one and do a little research. Ask for a price and act uninterested, then leave. You’ll probably get the shop owner chasing after you shouting lower and lower numbers. Keep walking.

2. Decide what you think the item is worth before you even ask for a price. After you’ve expressed firm interest through an offer you’re in a weaker position, so figure out what you’re wiling to pay as soon as you can. How do you know what an item is worth in this strange currency where prices seem arbitrary? I’m glad you asked.

3. A tactic Christina used with great success was actually shopping without any money on her. She’d leave her purse at home and pop into shops just to see what they had. Even if you can’t find that exact item in another store, you can always come back later.

4. When its time to make an offer, ask for a price. If you think its extortionate, smile and ask for a better price. Then maybe smile again and ask for the best price without even making an offer. Hopefully that will get you to a more reasonable starting point. From there you can go back and forth a few times (always with a smile) and settle on a mutually agreeable price. If the shop owner won’t budge, remember your trump card is to walk away. If he STILL doesn’t budge, maybe your price is too low and you should consider not being such a cheap ass.

5. Don’t fall for the “What’s 50 rupees to you, a dollar? It makes no difference to you but to me it’s a meal for my family!” Ok, maybe that’s true, but if everyone paid Rs 50 more for everything soon the prices would be higher than the west. Price is not only determined by what the vendor bought the product for, but what he thinks he can get for it. This is especially true for rickshaw rides, which cost drivers very little. Rest assured, vendors are making money on the transaction regardless of how good you are at negotiation. You’re always paying the tourist tax.

6. A line my friend Stephen likes to use to cut through the bullshit was something to the effect of “I just want a good price, add a little to what it cost you and I’ll be happy with that.” It helps to know a bit about what it cost but it also appeals to the vendor’s softer side, something they aren’t used to getting from tourists. You may disarm them (with a smile).

7. Don’t get hung up on it. You can drive yourself crazy with the constant negotiating. Sometimes its worth it for your sanity to just take the first offer (if you think it’s fair enough), or even MAKE the first offer if you have an idea of what the item is worth from the start. Remember that stress and time are worth something to you as well.

That’s it. Some of it seems obvious but to someone like me that avoids confrontation, it helps to have a plan. I’ll leave you the story with one of my more successful negotiations, which happened almost entirely by accident:

We were in Jaipur and I’d broken another pair of cheap plastic sandals. I wanted something that would last a little longer. We stopped into an upmarket shoe store with window displays and well-dressed employees. I asked about a price of sandals.

“700 rupees,” the manager said. This was a little more than $10. Not expensive but more than I wanted to pay. I thought it was fair for good quality but I had no idea how long they’d hold up. I decided to look around a bit. He didn’t make another offer as I left, so I figured that price was pretty firm.

Later that day I saw a very similar pair of sandals at another store, this one a bit dustier and with harsh fluorescent lights. Instead of neat boxes there were piles of different sizes strewn around.

“How much?” I held up my chosen camel-leather sandals.
“600 rupees, very good quality.” The salesmen demonstrated the flexibility of the soles. I still thought the first pair were better quality, and that I could negotiate them down a bit.
“No thanks,” I said, and started to walk out. I genuinely didn’t want the sandals.
“Ok, 500, my friend.”
I continued out the door.
“300!” Now we’re talkin’. I was willing to take the risk that these weren’t the same shoes for less than half the price of the first store, which I wasn’t sure would budge from 700. And if they stayed firm I’d have to trudge all the way back here, tail between my legs. I could have been ruthless and offered 200, then maybe settled on 250, but I’ve got a heart. In this case the 50 rupees didn’t matter; I’d already won.

Well, this was a few months ago, and I still have the sandals. They survived daily wear for our stay in India and broke in with a beautiful patina. I considered filling my suitcase with dozens of pairs for resale back home, then thought better of venturing into an India-based import business and decided to be satisfied with my accidentally successful negotiation.

May you all have the same good fortune. Go forth, and bargain! Ok, maybe not at the dentist’s office.


Cool Tools: USDA Food Access Research Atlas

Part of our mission as young farmers is to make a difference in the place that we live. It’s why we’ve chosen this path. Further, Christina and I have a unique opportunity to select where we end up living among almost limitless choices, and we must consider many different factors in picking a place. This means not only selecting a place that we’d enjoy living, but one that needs us. I don’t mean to sound preachy here; we don’t expect to swoop in and become someone’s savior, but we want to work to make a place better and that means finding a place with poor access to healthy food. Well, thanks to the USDA, we can drill down into an immense data set with this awesome new visualization tool.

This mapping tool illustrates the census tracts that have poor access to healthy food. In other words, neighborhoods we can help. If you select a few of the layers on the right, you’ll see a lot of color emerge from the map. This is good news and bad news for us: our options for future home towns are nearly everywhere, but that means that there is poor access to healthy food nearly everywhere in the US. I had no idea the problem was this widespread. Well, time to get to work.


How to: NOT Make Homemade Whiskey

I post words on the internet therefore I’m a pretty big deal and it’s my civic duty to educate. Thus, I present the first officially licensed BringaSnack.com How To. In this case if you do everything the opposite of the way we did you might end up with a palatable whiskey, or at least something that won’t blind you.

“Have a taste,” my partner in this disaster said to me, as we were siphoning the partially-made whiskey from its fermenter to the distilling pot.

“Tastes…vinegar-y,” I said. “Good, but…yeah, vinegar-y.” We had no idea at the time, but this wasn’t a good sign. We pushed on with the distilling process.

Above all, make whiskey. Don’t make vinegar. I can’t stress this enough. Careful sanitation is priority number one when preparing for fermenting. If a single stray bacteria or wild yeast particle gets in after the boil, the result will be ugly, or at least not what you’re looking for. In our case we ended up with some pretty tasty malt vinegar, but that’s a very, very small consolation.

Yes, that's a toilet.

Yes, that’s a toilet.

But, assuming you’ve gotten through the fermenting process unfazed and have achieved something alcoholic, don’t distill in a small room, like a bathroom. Leaving aside the obvious sanitation problems, if there had been any alcohol in this pot, its vapors may have seeped out through a leaky hose fitting (mistake number three). Confined alcohol vapors plus open flame equals BOOM! So we dodged a bullet there.

The goal of distilling is to separate the substances in your pot so you get the good stuff and can discard the rest. The temperature of the liquid is raised slowly, allowing certain bits to boil and evaporate and then be cooled by a condenser and turned back into liquid. Usually the condenser looks like a big copper coil and is cooled by air. Ours was a slightly fancier water-cooled version.

The first thing that we needed to watch for was methyl alcohol, which evaporates at 64.7 degrees celsius. This is poison and must be tossed out unless you want to go blind/crazy. So we had to keep a close eye on the temperature and when it reached the magic number we’d know the methyl alcohol was evaporated and we were safe to save the rest.

Unfortunately we were using an infared thermometer and trying to get readings off of a shiny metal pot, which kept showing suspiciously low temperatures. Hmm. As it turns out, infared thermometers work by magic light and are thrown out of whack by shiny surfaces (mistake number…oh hell I’ve lost count).

So, even though we were boiling vinegar over an open flame in a tiny bathroom and had a leaky fitting, we managed to squeeze in one more mistake. I hung the condenser from the ceiling a few feet above the distilling pot and connected the two via a meter-long plastic tube. This means that the vapor particles had to travel all that distance to get to the condenser, but they never got there. They were cooled by air in the rubber tube and ran back into the heated pot. They were effectively condensed before they reached the condenser, which never got a chance to divert the liquid into our old timey moonshine jars. That’s one thing we got right. When making bathtub booze, always, always use old-timey jars.

It was a learning experience. I hope your attempts go better, or at least you love malt vinegar. Regardless, for all the “don’ts” this taught, it also reminded me of an important “do”: try, try again.

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