Getting it off my chest

Theresa’s famous advice for not getting ripped off in a West African market

Dear expats, You will always get a foreigner tax when you go to the market to buy things. Here, we call it the “yovo price,” yovo being the Fon word for foreigner. Here are a few ways to not get ripped off (as much).

  1. This is not a market, but it was a great party!Ask about the price beforehand. Ask a friend. Ask your taxi-moto driver. Ask in another part of the market. Do not ask anywhere near the stand where you plan on making your purchase. For example, if you want to know how much tomatoes cost, go to the part of the market where you can’t see any food items. Go to the “fabric aisle” or the “electronics aisle” and strike up a conversation. Not only will you make friends, but you’ll get an accurate idea of prices elsewhere.
  2. Learn a few words in the local language. If you are an English speaker and you come to Benin, French is not the local language. It is a colonial language. In Cotonou, you should learn Fon. In Parakou, Bariba is good. Lagos … Yarouba? Igbo? I have no idea. “Good morning! How are you? How much does this cost? Too expensive! I don’t speak [language].” These five phrases will get you EVERYWHERE with market mamas. And the price will go down.
  3. Make friends with the marché mamans. Most of these women love respectful foreigners who speak their language, treat them nicely, and take the time to chat. Take the time to brighten their day. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool. As everywhere in the world, showing a bit of vulnerability goes a long way to earning trust. Mamas who like you don’t overcharge (as much).
  4. Don’t worry so much about getting ripped off. No wait, come back! This isn’t going to be a lecture on privilege, I swear! Know going in how much you’re willing to pay for something. If you think those bananas are worth 200 francs, then who cares if you could have gotten them for 100? Your blood pressure is more important than the $.20.

Love, Theresa

P.S. This is not directed at any current or past visitors to the humble Sondjo home.
P.P.S. I end up telling this to everyone who comes through, so I thought I’d just post it and be done with it. :)
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