Cheeky… but not rude – local markets around the world

There is a real art, that so many school children around the world fail at every day, which is interacting with people in a way that is cheeky, but not rude. For that matter it’s not just school children, but many a drunk person who thinks that they are being charming and funny when in reality, those that can walk in a straight line see as clear as day that they’re are actually acting like dicks!

For those who don’t know the meaning of ‘cheeky’ or those who have never heard my interpretation of the word, I will explain what I mean: to be cheeky is to be rude but get away with it because the person who you are being rude to is amused by you.

You may wonder what I’m getting at with this post and I almost forgot myself for a second but I’ve been inspired to share my experiences at local markets that I have visited around the world where being cheeky can help you get a good price but being rude could possibly end in violence.

If you are from the UK like me then a trip to a local market can be a strange and quite possibly intimidating experience. We come from a world where the price is the price and it’s written clearly on signs and it’s been programmed into a computer that ensures that the correct price is paid and if the halfwit behind the counter failed at maths at school it doesn’t matter because the computer will also calculate the change that should be given.

Local markets are not like this. There is wiggle room where you can haggle what price you would like to pay and come to an agreement with the store owner. To be a successful haggler you have to have a knowledge of the value of the item you are purchasing. If you don’t then you run the risk of A: getting ripped off by the sometimes less than honest store owner or B: offering an absurdly low amount and offending the sometimes less than honest store owner which in some countries can end in a heated exchange.

Not all countries are the same in this matter and I still have so many to experience but here is some of what I know:

My most recent trip to a market, in a small town called Metepec, just South-West of Mexico City, was with my girlfriend and her mum. It was a quick and efficient weekly grocery shop for amazing fresh fruit and veg. The market happens every Monday and there isn’t really much haggling that happens between the honest local people who come across as friendly and hardworking. I wouldn’t even want to haggle when two huge,delicious pineapples cost just £1!

This experience was in stark contrast to the first and worse one I had at a local market in a different culture. This experience took place in Bodrum, Turkey. As soon as 3 friends and myself, in our early 20s stepped into the market we got swamped. I soon learned to rebel against my friendly nature and refuse to shake hands with stall owners as once they grab your hand they won’t let go until you have examined there range of Roy Band glasses and Gushi belts.

Fast-forward eight years or so and I walked through similar styles of market in Morocco, called Medinas, first in Fez and later Marrakech. The biggest difference was rather than a scared young English man – who walked around with one hand in his pocket and the other holding an empty can of coke so that nobody could grab him by the hand – I was a confident man that interacted with store owners with humor. ‘why do I need to buy a carpet if I don’t own a house’ I joked with one guy. He continued to try to sell me one for my mum or for my grandma but I didn’t feel as intimidated as I previously did in Turkey.

I am always intrigued walking around markets but don’t often buy anything, probably because I am useless at the haggling that I explained about or maybe I’m just tight! In Thailand however, I will admit to buying the occasional pair of dodgy glasses. Here I found another problem of the haggle. You must be prepared to pay the price that you get down to. Now I don’t remember the exact price that I paid for a pair of glasses (and also got a belt thrown in for free) but I do remember feeling slightly embarrassed at paying with a note with a larger value than the price that he originally asked for! Very poor etiquette!

The most intriguing market that I visited was in China. Now I don’t know what was going on around me and wouldn’t have purchased anything if I’d seen something that I wanted as there was barely any English spoken. But this wasn’t a problem as I don’t remember seeing a single thing that I wanted amongst the buckets filled with live toads, all types of fish, Octupus and eels! Fried insects and other… Shall we say, unique, snacks.

The last thing that sticks with me through these different experiences are the smells. The good, the bad and the strange. Through the hustle and bustle of hundreds of people in such a tight space you can jump from feeling hungry to feeling sick to your stomach in the space of a few yards. If you stop for food in a Moroccan Medina, for example, I’d advise standing still to eat because if you find yourself anywhere near the tanneries, where they treat animal hides in the street, I can assure you that you will quickly lose your appetite because of the stench!

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