Bharat Me, Bargains Hai! by Maja Orlowska

Besides the main excitements usually associated with traveling abroad like new foods, interesting sights, and different ways of life, us NSLI-Y students were beyond excited from the very beginning of the trip to experience one thing: shopping and bargaining in India. While there are shopping malls and regular stores, a popular way of buying goods is from streetside stands and vendors. We knew that going to the market or areas in Pune which are well known for their ample street shopping would be a fun way to not only score some beautiful Indian clothing, tapestries, jewelry, or presents for our families and friends back home, but also a great way for us to put our Hindi learning to use in a day to day setting.
Therefore, our shopping adventures started off in the classroom. Our Hindi teachers were eager to help us learn and began the preparation by teaching us useful phrases like, “Kaise diya?” (“How much is it?”) or “Kya aap ke pas _______ hai?’ (“Do you have _(name of item here)_?”) and just like that, we were prepared for the most basic interactions with shopkeepers.

However, the second step of shopping would be bargaining for a lower price. Although there are many locations with “fixed rates”, or unnegotiable prices, bargaining is possible in many locations and is a common practice in India. Being foreigners, we knew that we would most likely get charged higher prices, so we needed to polish up our bargaining tactics to get a good deal. From our teachers, we learned phrases like, “Yaha bahut mahonga hai!” (“This is too expensive!”) or “Kuch kam karo?” (“Will you lower the price?”). In addition to linguistic tips, we learned other tricks to ensure the best deal possible, like not appearing too eager about any item, or walking away and waiting for a vendor to call you back and offer a lower price.

After all this, we were prepared! While entering the markets, we were greeted with hundreds of pretty items on every side, a myriad of colors, and vendors calling out, “Special deal just for you, ma’am!” Even the appearance of the market, full of trinkets, vendors, and crowds of people, was quite the experience by itself. Once we were able to slightly absorb all these sights, it was time to shop. Although at first we were slightly timid, we soon put our newly-learned bargaining skills to good use. At the end of the day, we were all satisfied with our purchases and ability to converse with the shopkeepers in Hindi.

What is truly amazing about an immersion program is being in a context where using the language in a real-life setting is possible, and sometimes also a necessity. Learning vocabulary that is applicable to what you are doing and then being able to use it with native speakers makes the language learning  process, which can be at times quite difficult, fun and exciting. This was definitely one of the most entertaining experiences that I’ve had so far in India- not only because I was able to bring down the price of a hand-carved wooden statue from 400 rupees to 150 rupees, but also because I was able to use Hindi, the language I’ve come here to learn, to make this interaction with a vendor possible.

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