How to Negotiate in a Nicaraguan Market (and avoid the gringo discount)

The gringo discount. For those of you who have yet to visit a market frequented by tourists in Nicaragua, you probably haven’t been offered the gringo discount. You know when have when a merchant at the market tells you that Toña t-shirt costs $20.

how to negociate in a nicaragua market and avoid the gringo discount“Gee…I dunno,” you think to yourself. “That sounds kind of high. But everybody has one and that’s about what I would pay back home.”

You justify it. Why? Because a beer shirt is cooler souvenir than a gallo pinto shirt (also $20).

But if Senior Fulano Sutano Lacayo Davila went to the same shop to buy it, he would get it for $12. That eight dollars extra is the gringo discount.

In the rest of the world it is called supply and demand since the merchant has it and the visitors want it. But regardless of who is buying the t-shirt (or hammock or humping toads or painting of a fat woman on the toilet), the merchant has a “can’t go more low” than $x.xx price that they will accept from anyone. Get past the gringo discount, go lower than the locals’ price and buy that Toña t-shirt for $8. You can do it. It’s fun. Here’s how.

1. Find the lowest price in the market

Ask around. Everyone who sells t-shirts has a Toña shirt for sale because every gringo buys one. The first place you go to may offer one for $20 (especially if you ask specifically for it). Shop around and don’t be afraid to ask cuanto valen las camisetas (how much for the shirts?). Keep in mind where the cheapest two or three places are and when you have an idea of what merchants are asking you can make your move.

2. Warm up the deal

You have identified a shopkeeper who is selling those coveted Toña shirts for a cool $16. Time to buy? Not before building a rapport. If you are a woman and the shopkeeper is a man, flirt. If you are a man and the shopkeeper is a woman, flirt (especially if she is older…they love attention from extranjeros). If both of you are the same sex, flirt. What this does is break down that cold buyer/seller wall and build up that warm friendliness that Nicas are known for. Here are a few things to say if you aren’t sure what to say (or how to say it):

What’s my size? Cual es mi talla? 

(sizes here are S, M, L, XL and that’s about it).

Ask to try the shirt on: Permitame probarme la camiseta, porfa.

(put it on OVER the shirt you have on. Do not get top nekkid please)

Does it make me look fat/skinny? (really funny if you are fat or skinny): Me hace parecer gordo/flaco?

Well, I would like to buy it but I am afraid the ladies/men would want to tear it off my chest: Pues me gustaria comprarla pero estoy preocupado, las damas/hombres van a querer romperla de mi pecho. 

Is it on sale? If I buy a liter-sized t-shirt will I get a small on free (a common deal for beer in bars)? Esta en promocion? Osea, si compro una camiseta tamano litro me regalas una pequena gratis?

Bonus points if you get the shopkeeper’s phone number.

3. Negotiate

Now that you have found a shop with decent-priced goods and have buttered up the shopkeeper, time to find a good price. Tell em that you like the shirt but sixteen bucks is a bit expensive.

Me gusta la camisesta pero es un poco cara. 

(I usually start at 50% off)

Will you take $8? Aceptas ocho?

Of course they won’t (they are pros at negotiation since their livelihood depends on it). They will probably chuckle and counter with something hardly lower than what they started with. Like $14. That is to give you the idea that they don’t usually negotiate but will drop it down a little bit to be polite. Act surprised and refer back to something clever said in the buttering-up stage.

Only $14? It is because it does make me look fat! Solo catorce? Es porque me hace parecer gordo verdad!

Then try my coveted trick. Ask for the solidarity price. That comes from 2014 when the price of beans skyrocketed in Nicaragua and the government stepped in to sell them at a solidarity price (which was a loss for them financially but be a gain at the next elections).

Look, give me the solidarity price. Mira, dame el precio solidario. Speak with confidence and make a ruffled-brow, kissy-pouty face like a monkey saying, “I need those bananas.”

That usually gets a chuckle and another few bucks off because you referenced a very touchy Nica subject: bean prices.

$12. That’s the locals’ price. Now with the gringo discount out of the way it’s time for the advanced negotiation. It’s time to get serious.

market painting

4. Bulk pricing

For most people a 25% drop in price is acceptable and give yourself a pat on the back if you decide to accept it. I give you a B- for your negotiation skills. Well done.

Drop it another 25% and show that vendor you are serious.

Everybody knows that buying in bulk is cheaper and that is no different in the market. You want that one shirt for less than $12? Tell them you will buy more.

Look, I think my friends will like the shirt as well. Three for $24. Mira, creo que mis amigos van a gustar la camiseta tambien. Tres por veinticuatro. (pull out a $20 or a C$500 but not more than that until they agree).

Of course I can’t guarantee that they will accept that but you can bet that if they don’t, the next offer they make will be their lowest.

5. Get that shirt for free

If you do the math that breaks down to $8 a shirt. And you get not one, not two but three! “Gee Casey,” you might be saying to yourself. “That’s all well and good, but I didn’t want three. I only wanted one Toña shirt.” Right, well, bring those other two shirts back to your hostal/hotel and start bragging about the awesome deal you got. When somebody asks you where you got it, tell them you have two more that you will sell them for the awesome price of $12. They know that’s an awesome price because they were quoted $20. Sell em both and your shirt was free!

Everybody is happy

You bought a shirt you like, the shopkeeper made a sale and maybe even two other visitors got a good deal on shirts themselves. Everybody is happy. Right? Right.

Don’t go into a shop wanting to get that shirt for a steal. That means know that the shopkeeper has to feed his/her family and, though they may try to charge you the gringo discount, their final price is their final price. If you keep pressuring them they may go down a bit more but more likely than that they will stick to their guns. Things could turn sour if you both have the mindset that the other one is trying to take advantage of the other.

Keep the chatter light and funny and enjoy the negotiation.