Business is Business. Haggling is an Art Form in Guatemala

Clara, a Smart and Witty Businesswoman in Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Clara, a Smart and Witty Businesswoman in Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Clara, a Smart and Witty Businesswoman in Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014

“I’ll make you a deal. Business is business and I’m a businesswoman,” said Clara, the street vendor outside the opens in a new windowPorta Hotel (Antigua). She “greeted” our group every morning during opens in a new window last month’s trip to Guatemala.

Brightly-colored tapestries made with traditional Guatemalan fabric were folded and balanced atop her head as she followed me from the hotel entrance to the bus.

“Hello, Friend. Would you like to buy one?” she said holding up a tapestry while more draped over her shoulder and beaded necklaces dangled from one of her arms.

““No thank you,” I politely replied.

Clara's Sister Selling Fabrics, Necklaces Outside Porta Hotel, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Clara’s Sister Selling Fabrics, Necklaces Outside Porta Hotel, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014

She persisted and before getting onto the bus, she told me she would wait for me the next day. I told her on my last day I would think about buying something.

When the final day came, I kept my promise, as did my traveling companions, and checked out what she had. I was somewhat low on cash (I waited to exchange money at the hotel and some of my bills were not crisp so they wouldn’t accept it) and wanted the best bang for my buck, err, quetzal, in finding the perfect Guatemalan souvenir.

I stepped into a haggling game in front of the hotel between two of my traveling companions and Clara. Ugh. I’m not a fan of haggling. My last three cars have been Saturns because the company had a set, non-negotiable price. Haggling is part of the Guatemalan culture and not participating in it is a bit of an insult so I unwillingly played the game.

Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014

“Are these handmade?” I asked.

“Yes, they’re handmade, I don’t make them with my feet,” Clara replied. Nice. A response I can respect and appreciate.

“When do you make these?” I asked.

“I go home in the afternoon to make them,” she replied.

I ended up buying one tapestry from Clara and three necklaces from her sister. My traveling companions purchased much more and probably helped her meet her monthly quota.

After visiting a tourist-centric craft market in Guatemala City, although I got a good deal from Clara, I could have gotten a better deal at the market. Her prices were about twice as much as what I and others found in the market.

Beautiful Mayan Guatemalan Textiles Outside Porta Hotel, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Beautiful Mayan Guatemalan Textiles Outside Porta Hotel, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014

But you know what? Clara is a very smart businesswoman and salesperson and I respect that. Albeit a very different one to the type found at home. It feels like an old fashioned style of businesswoman. Today we are used to businesswomen using computers and application development tools to make sales, not the street. Nonetheless, salespeople everywhere can learn from her. Why?

  1. Her traje, her Mayan style, looked authentic. Whether it’s typical for her to dress in huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt) or just a uniform of sorts, she looked like what tourists expect to see in Guatemala.
  2. Clara’s English was near-perfect. She said it was because she has been making and selling goods outside the hotels since she was seven all the while practicing the language.
  3. She was persistent. She didn’t take “no” and cower away. She took “no” but rephrased the ask with hopes of making a sale. She took another “no” and was polite about it.
  4. She had a great story. How boring would it be to purchase something that was made in a factory? When asked, she said she made the goods and true or not, I’d rather purchase something I think was handmade than something commercially manufactured. Plus, see #2.
  5. Location, location, location. She’s known for quite some time where to find her buyers, outside the hotels and resorts.
  6. She said to find her on Facebook (which I haven’t done). The contrast
  7. She was witty and smiled. Yeah, maybe I got ripped off but I felt (and still do) I paid a fair price.
  8. She created a positive and memorable experience.
Clara (Center) Waves Goodbye, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014
Clara (Center) Waves Goodbye, Antigua, Guatemala, May 2014

Thanks, Clara. The experience was priceless.

Tell me, do you like to haggle?



Jennifer A. Huber is an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. The unexpected death of her former husband in 2008 reminded her how short life is. His passing was a catalyst for sharing her experiences with the goal of inspiring and empowering others to travel solo. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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