Dear foreign tourists

Welcome to South Africa. Welkom. Wamkelekile. I’m getting to meet so many of you at the craft markets lately, and some of you have travelled really far to visit us – from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the UK, the US, Belgium, Sweden, Japan…  Thank you very much for coming, for liking what you see, and of course for spending your money here (not all of it goes towards firepools for the president’s personal estate or new Porsche Cayennes for all the top government officials)!

And, let’s be honest, you’re getting great value for your money, aren’t you? Our rand is a poor little sausage compared to your meaty euros and your hearty dollars – so then why why WHY would some of you treat some of us with disrespect?


Why would a tourist from Portugal try to buy something from me at less than the marked price? He wanted a pair of rhino-printed pillow cases, which cost R195 (don’t bother trying to convert that into your currency – believe me, it’s a very reasonable price for a top-quality, handmade, original item). He said, I only have R130 on me – here you go. As it happened, I’d gone to the loo and Rob was holding the fort at the time. He said, It’s R195. If you haven’t got the money, you can’t have it. “But it’s for my wife, she really wants it.” Then your wife must come and buy it. “Okay, okay, what’s your best price?” For you – R250.  Now please leave.  [He did, but came back sheepishly 30 minutes later with the right amount].

Why would an Asian tourist at the Kirstenbosch market pick up a hat that was already on sale and scream Cheaper??? Cheaper??? in my face?  Any cheaper and I’d have to pay him to buy it.

A German couple recently wanted me to make them a huge bedspread with screenprinted designs and very specific colours, in just three days (they were going home for Christmas), and also to deliver it to them at their (second) house in the countryside. I worked out that I could manage it, at a real push, and quoted R1,700 (that’s 115 euros). Apparently it was much too much, and they huffed off. Rob suggested I should maybe have considered doing it for less – since, you know, income is useful for buying food and petrol – so he got this answer: No f**king way. If people don’t want to pay a fair price for something special, then they can’t have it. Or not from me, anyway. I would have resented every second I spent making that bedspread – so totally not worth it!


Is this common behaviour? Do some people think that haggling is the way things are done at craft markets in Africa? Or that, because they’re not in a fancy shop in a fancy mall, they can get something very special very cheaply? Because it’s not, and they can’t. I know many traders (who also make their stock by hand), and they have similar stories to tell – but the bottom line is that it’s insulting.

Not one single South African customer has EVER asked me for a discount. I do give discounts to fellow crafters, and if I really like someone and they buy more than one item from me, I am happy to reduce the price, unasked. I once offered a discount to a young woman at a market in Tulbagh who bought a hat for herself and one for her friend, and she turned it down – she said she knew how long it takes to crochet, and she wanted to pay the full price. Now that’s classy.

Right. Let me get back to work. I have three markets on this weekend (tomorrow is a public holiday here), and a four-day gift fair next week to prepare for. I’m looking forward to selling to LOVELY new and returning customers, wherever in the world they are from :)


16 thoughts on “Dear foreign tourists

  1. Rainbow Junkie

    I can understand how you feel but I suppose it’s about culture, either where they come from or what they expect from Africa. I have the opposite problem when a tourist in some places where they expect you to haggle. I much prefer to look at the price, say “can I afford it?” and just pay but people in those countries think you’re odd if not plain stupid if you do so.

  2. katechiconi

    I’m with you. There’s often a perception in Europe that Market = Cheap or at least Negotiable, and certainly in Asia and North Africa, haggling is expected, but good quality, hand crafted, individually produced goods shouldn’t raise such expectations in a culture where there’s no custom of haggling. Can you imagine the reaction if they tried it in a supermarket or a dress shop? Maybe you need a sign that says “If you want to haggle, visit another country”. Beautifully hand crafted, of course… Back when I did markets, if an item was marked $12 and they told me they only had $10, I’d say “That’s OK, *maybe* it’ll still be here next time….”

    1. Nice piece of work Post author

      Yes, I think it’s partly about the perception of what a market is, but – for some people – it’s also about getting a bargain, squeezing the little guy, wanting something for less than it’s value because that’s the kind of arrogance some people have. Those people must not come to my stall.
      On the penultimate day of the Grahamstown Festival, a woman asked me if she should rather buy a hat the next day because the price would be halved. I said actually it wouldn’t: the price is the price, based on labour, materials and trading costs. I also pointed out that, since hats don’t actually go off, any remaining stock will be sold back in Cape Town. People!!

      1. katechiconi

        What on earth gave her the idea that the price would be halved? Are other people really so lazy they won’t take their unsold stock home for another day? Surely not… As you say, the price is the price, and the value of your work doesn’t suddenly go down because the market is over.

  3. tgonzales

    Oh my gosh Jill! I totally understand your feelings; I feel the same way. Good luck at your three markets. I know you will do well. I just love all your beautiful creations. Hugs, Tamara

  4. Gail

    Well said, Jill. I reduced a price for a sweet little girl who wanted to buy a bag of marbles but only had R10 pocket money left, so I gave her R5 discount. Hoped that someone would do the same thing for my granddaughters one day.

  5. Pingback: #Market cultures  – capetownpulse

  6. nanacathy2

    I agree with the other comments. It’s because you call it a market and people have been advised to haggle in markets/ bizarres. Best advice is to stop calling them markets. We use the word craft fair in the UK. Good luck with your other three events.

    1. Nice piece of work Post author

      Yes, it’s a cultural thing, I guess. These are “proper” craft markets, and the traders spend time and money on display so it all looks, you know, smart-ish and organised. Craft Fair definitely sounds much more professional :)

  7. NikkiM

    If it said Harrods they don’t have a problem paying, then the item is made in China. But as soon as it handmade and at it at a craft market they want it for free! I don’t understand people!

    1. Nice piece of work Post author

      hmmm. I was chatting to another trader at Somerset West on Saturday. She makes beady things, and had a few earrings for sale. They were very sweet and were priced at R20 a pair (as you know, you can barely buy a cooldrink for R20 these days). One woman said she really liked them although she thought they were a bit pricey plus she only needed one. Would Andrea sell her a single one, for R10? I won’t print Andrea’s reply here because it was very straightforward clearly she doesn’t take sh1t from anyone! :)


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