This article is from the December 1996 - January 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Empowered Shopper, Some Easy Tips

A middle-aged woman with light skin and curly red hair was recently observed in one of the shopping plazas just across the border in Tijuana, frantic and tired, with a visage that suggested to the world that the only thing she wanted was to get back to California and curl up on her living room couch with a diet coke to watch Third Rock from the Sun. Her arms were full and her hands carried a number of plastic shopping bags filled with bordertown booty, an obvious sign to the local vendors that this woman was out to buy. With the crossing gates in sight, she lost it...finally. "Get away from me," she yelled at one unfortunate silver jewelry salesman, "all of you. Leave me alone. I hate you all. Who do you think I am? I hate your blankets." And she was loud. A candidate for Chiclets, this woman was not. (She had apparently spent the day ineffectively yeasaying and naysaying, and clumsily trying some rudimentary bargaining feigning she popped into one shop after the other. And now she was tired and cranky.) There is never a need to revert to the primitive behaviors to which this woman had regressed. Just saying "no" doesn’t usually do the trick, especially when one’s arms are laden with shopping bags.

Shopping in Mexico can be one of the true pleasures of the curious traveler. Try to bargain, however, only when it is appropriate. Street vendors will usually bargain: they may quote a ridiculously high price and you may come back with a ludicrously low price and the final sale will fall somewhere in between. It’s fun, interactive, and both parties can leave the transaction feeling like winners. Don’t, however, try to dicker over prices in the more established, quality shops. This is about as appropriate as going into Macy’s to bargain over the price of a raincoat. The shopkeeper will feel offended that you mistook her shop for something much lower in quality, and you will soon feel like a bumbling fool. Everyone leaves the experience with a darker view of the world. Respect the art and beauty of the products, enjoy interacting with a person from a well-established culture which values respectful interaction, and pay a bit more (it’s still an unbelievable bargain). The positive vibes may even sway her to lowering the price a bit, just for you. But even if she chooses not to do this, everyone still wins.

If you are browsing and aren’t ready to buy anything just yet, just say, "solo mirando" (only looking). Or else just point to your eyes. This will be well accepted. If you find yourself engulfed by a tsunami of hawkers ("Almost free, just for you.... Chiclets, Chiclets.... Hey, Mrs. America, beautiful things in here..."), try using a deceptively simple assertive action: just waggle your index finger. This is the single most effective way of dredging up an old childhood symbol which strikes a note in the heart of anyone from Mexico...and instills the message that says, "No!" This is how mothers train their children. This is the essence of proscription. Do it and you pluck on primitive, unconscious strings. When in doubt, remember this rule: Don’t Haggle, Waggle.