Buying and selling are age-old traditions in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and when you visit a bazaar or suuq, you will find endless fascination in observing shopping behaviour in different Arab countries. Traditional bazaars are still enormously popular and are the perfect setting for observing behaviour and listening to Arabic. Exchanges of greetings between traders and potential customers are a joy to listen to.
For example, a salesman will sometimes deliberately switch from his native dialect to very classical Arabic to catch the attention of the public out on the street. If the suuq is popular with tourists, the trader will have mastered some words in most major languages. A tourist who speaks some Arabic will obviously attract the attention of the trader!
You will also find that the trader, having welcomed you into to his shop, will provide hospitality, normally in the form of drinks (hot or cold depending on the season), while you settle down to discuss the carpet, perfume or dress that you are interested in.
For many traders haggling, or negotiating the price, is part of the enjoyment of trading, and you should not be too embarrassed to engage in the game. The aim is to reach a price at which, as the Arabic proverb says, ‘The wolf does not die and the lamb survives.’
Although you will find supermarkets – and more recently hypermarkets – in most Arab countries where prices are fixed and you don’t negotiate, you will find that old habits die hard. It is still quite common to negotiate over prices, or haggle, in many ordinary shops because many shopkeepers, or their parents, remember a time when markets were not ruled by fixed prices and the iron laws of economics.
Don’t hesitate to ask this question if you are in the suuq: maa huwa aakhir si3r? It means: ‘What is the last price?’
Don’t be shy about asking it more than once as the first answer to this question will, for sure, not really be ‘the last price’.
If you want to emphasise your doubts concerning the proposed ‘last price’, you can always say: 3an jadd? (Really? Honestly?).