Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TIPS: Shopping Success in Mexico

-by La Huerita

Shopping in México can be very exciting, whether you're looking for gifts, jewelry, souvenirs, clothing, furniture or food. From the vendors on the beach to t-shirt boutiques to upscale malls, shopping can be half the fun of going there! Here are some hints that might help you out, whether you're in a small town like Rocky Point or a big place like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta.

Bargaining is a lot of fun for some people, and not so much fun for others. Be aware that in most stores, the price is the price-- same as in the USA. Don't even bother trying to bargain with the salesclerks in an upscale store. A general rule of thumb: if the shop is air-conditioned they will not bargain. In the open-air markets, the shops a few blocks inland from the tourist areas, on the beaches, etc., bargaining is the rule.

As author Carl Franz puts it in his indispensable Mexican travel book, The People's Guide to Mexico, bargaining is not an argument. Instead it is "a polite discussion of price," a dialogue that should always be kept "light, friendly and easy-going." Once you have determined that you want an item, offer half of what they ask and work your way up until you reach a price you're willing to pay. And don't let them see that you really want something; they'll get firm on the price very quickly and refuse to come down any lower if you're fondling the item or otherwise displaying your absolute desire for it.

The secret to saying "no" that all Méxicans know but you probably don't: if the vendors are pestering you, or the children won't take no for an answer about those Chicletas, or the guy insists on giving you a shoeshine whether you want one or not-- waggle your index finger from side to side as you are saying "No". This is the signal that Méxicans understand means "I really mean No", and it works like a charm. It will often stop people in mid sentence and they'll turn away to find someone else. Be polite about it, smile, but learn to waggle that finger!

Buying silver from beach or street vendors is usually perfectly fine, but be careful because sometimes the silver is of inferior quality. Always check to see that it is marked with a .925 (or higher), the word Sterling, or both to be sure that what you are getting is good quality. Follow the instructions for Bargaining to get a good deal.

Department Stores: Besides the usual souvenir and jewelry shops, México has its own brands of department stores. Salinas y Rocha, for instance, is an upscale store equivalent to Macy's or Liberty House (at Méxican prices) selling a better quality of clothing, luggage, furniture, housewares, etc., and is worth a look. You can also look for Dorian's in some cities (there are 2 Dorian's in San Luis Rio Colorado up by the Yuma border crossing). Dorian's is a less toney store than Salinas y Rocha, but full of wonderful bargains. In addition, you will find Sam's Club, Costco, Walmart and other such stores in many Méxican cities. For the most part you will not find any of these stores in the major tourist areas, because they are aimed at the Méxican population; look for them downtown, in local neighborhoods or in the big Méxican malls.

The first big "brand" to open in Puerto Penasco was a Coppel Department Store, right across the street from the Super Ley supermarket. Coppel, S.A. de C.V, specializes in household goods and clothing, and is one of the largest department store chains in northern Mexico. It is the second-largest chain in Mexico for the sale of furniture and articles for the home. The Coppel chain operates more than 300 stores in every Mexican state under the Tiendas Coppel name and almost 200 shoe stores under the name Tiendas Coppel-Canadá.

Handicrafts: In most regions of México that you visit you will find handicrafts unique to that region. In Puerto Vallarta, for instance, if you go down along the banks of the Cuale river by the little museum there you will find Native American women (and their children) from Jalisco and Nayarít-- often dressed in the traditional clothing of their tribes-- selling wonderful handmade dolls which are dressed in the same manner as the women themselves. In Los Cabos you will find fabulous handblown glassware-- usually blue; in the Yucatán you will find Mayan-based items, from archaeological reproductions to handwoven baskets; in the interior Colonial cities you will find lots of silver and unique pottery; and so on. Almost everywhere you will find blankets, rugs, sombreros and other items that people generally think of when they come to México. By all means pick some of these up, but a general rule of thumb to remember here is to get something you like when you first find it-- 'cause chances are good that unless it's a very common item it won't be there tomorrow, and you'll never find it again!

Buying groceries in a foreign country can be pretty intimidating, especially if you don't know what half the stuff is. Most grocery stores in tourist areas of México carry American brand-names-- at a premium!-- but the Méxican versions of the same things are usually just as good, and lots cheaper. The Méxican brands of tuna, for instance, are generally better tasting and half the price of American brands, and tuna packed in water is usually cheaper than that packed in oil. In major tourist areas like Cancun and Los Cabos, which are heavily "gringoized", you can find wonderful Sonoran beef in the cuts you are familiar with, at prices you are NOT familiar with, in any of the supermarkets in the tourist areas. Sonoran beef is available in Rocky Point, too, but for the BEST Sonoran beef at the best prices you should take a side trip to Caborca where the beef is raised. Remember that a kilo is 2.2 pounds, and then ask the man behind the meat counter for "un medio kilo de hamburgesa"; what you will get is a pound of extremely lean hamburger without paying extra for the lack of fat.

The main nationwide supermarkets are Comercial Méxicana and the former Gigante (now owned by and branded by Soriana). These stores are like a K-mart with a big grocery section and are lots of fun to browse around in; both have an extensive deli section and bakery. Rocky Point is fortunate to have a smallish Super Ley, but the day Comercial Méxicana comes to Puerto Penasco you will know the town has arrived! NOTE: in many Méxican markets, especially those which cater more to the local population than to tourists, you will probably find that the chickens have both the head and feet of the chicken packed into the cavity for your cooking pleasure. If this bothers you, pass on any chicken you see with anything that looks like feet protruding from it. Méxican chickens, by the way, will spoil you for the relatively tasteless items you are used to in the USA!

Fruits and Vegetables can easily be purchased in any number of neighborhood fruterias (frooterEEyahs), and are generally very fresh, attractively presented and cheap. Be aware that DDT is still widely used in México, so always wash your vegetables carefully in purified water before you eat them-- especially tomatoes, as these are usually eaten raw. Many vegetables here will likely be strange to you, but don't be afraid to try something new. Jicama (HEEkahmah) for instance, looks like a big ol' bulbous root, but when it is peeled it has a very sweet and crisp texture. You can eat it raw in salads or substitue it for potatoes in many dishes.

Check online for Mexican recipes or cookbooks to get an idea of what to do with many of the veggies you'll find in México. Or, of course, you can check the Recipes section here at Rocky Point Tides for some of those foods and what to do with them.

Happy shopping!

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