Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shopping in Ghana - The African Version of Retail Therapy

Kerry Tuttle

The process of buying something in Ghana is a cultural experience in itself. Whether it's haggling with a stranger at a market stall over a bracelet or getting charged 30 cedi ($15) for a box of cereal at the gas station because of your skin color, the Ghanaian retail world is one that's hard to get used to.

Most of the restaurants on Osu Avenue were very straightforward with their pricing. They had a menu with posted prices, you ordered and paid the expected amount. There was no bartering involved which was a relief to a group of American college students who were constantly trying not to get ripped off.

The gas stations were slightly different in that the posted price may not be what you paid when you approached the register. Many time we found ourselves paying three or four cedi more than posted. For example, one time I purchased four bottled waters at one cedi each and ended up paying seven cedi. At the end of a long day, I would usually just pay the 3 cedi ($1.50) tourist charge instead of argue my way out of it. One morning on our way to Cape Coast, my jaw dropped when the cashier charged me 30 cedi for a box of off-brand frosted flakes at a gas station. I protested the amount, but was met with a blank stare and handed over the equivalent of $15 because I had nothing else to eat.

A row of stalls in Makola Market
While this was frustrating, the markets in Ghana were downright intimidating. I've been to markets in Asia before - specifically the largest market in Bangkok, Thailand. However, Bangkok's market could in no way shape or form prepare me for the markets in Accra. The first market we went to was Makola Market which is in the center of Accra. It is known by Ghanaians outside of the capital, and many West Africans are aware of it as well. Produce, seafood, clothing, cooking utensils, jewelry, fabric, and different imported brands can be found here. Navigating this market was an adventure as it is spread over multiple blocks and is a maze of alleyways, stairwells and roads. The market is frequented by locals so pale-faced tourists are a sight to see, especially when traveling in a pack of 20.

The other market we went to was the Accra Arts Centre. While the size and setup of this market was more organized and logical, the hassling was not. We stepped off the bus clutching our cedis tight as we all spread out in different directions to go look for art, clothes, and jewelry made from all over the country. Bartering at the Arts Centre was intense. After walking down a row of stalls and hearing each shop owner call out to you - and some grab your arm - the next step is to settle on an item you like and begin the bartering process. Because we are foreigners, the prices initially charged to us are upwards of 400% higher than they would be charged to those of a Ghanaian. Working a shop owner down to a reasonable price is a process, but one that can pay off is you are patient and aggressive in your hassling.

You can't visit Ghana without experiencing authentic African trading and the culture shock that comes with it. Now back in the States, I'm relieved that I can go into a store and know that I will be charged a fair price. I also will now welcome an American sales associate asking if I need help finding anything, as it is far different than the aggressive nature of the shop owners in Ghana. Retail therapy does not apply in Africa. I felt like I needed to go to therapy after the culture shock of the African shopping trip.

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