tuesday morning market in calabria: part II

Last Tuesday we visited the weekly market in my village, and now it’s time for a little bargaining lesson.

First you should know that market prices are already lower than in the local stores–but that doesn’t mean you can’t get even better deals.

Verdure on Flickr

My first few Tuesdays here, I sat at the corner of the piazza and just watched the old women at work. I figured it was the best way to learn–from the pros.

Le donne on Flickr

I’ve often read that touching produce in Italy is a no-no, but apparently no one has told these women.

Picking Pomodori on Flickr

Or, more likely, the vendors are just too afraid to scold despite their tough exteriors.

Yes we have bananas on Flickr

Concetta (below) is one of the young old women. She’s in her early 80s, but gets around as well as anyone including me. She always smiles wide and says “Ciao Bella” while stroking the side of my face.

Concetta on Flickr

The first time I met her she invited me into her house and showed me photos of her entire family, including children and grandchildren spread throughout Italy, Europe, and South America as well as her husband who has passed on.

Concetta doesn’t live alone though; she lives (in sin!) with her male companion, a widower. By not getting married, she explained to me, she can still collect her deceased husband’s pensions (one from Italy and one from Switzerland). Furba, eh?

Come Tuesday morning, though, Concetta is all business. Her laughlines are well-hidden behind a poker face that truly draws fear in Pasquale, the meat truck guy.

I’ve seen her slap the hand of Totò, the man selling fruit and vegetables from the back of his Ape (AH-peh) when he tried to retrieve a carciofo from her hand.

Little truck (not an Ape) with fruits and vegetables on Flickr

I’ve also seen her throw up her hands in disgust and stomp away as Turi, the man with the best broccoli (I’m told) yelled after her shouting many numbers.

[The secret is to walk away; if they follow, they really want to sell.]

Concetta knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. She never leaves the market empty-handed, and always with a smile on her face.

Concetta says ciao on Flickr

Another successful morning for her, and another lesson in village life for me.

So, have you bargained at the market?

30 Beans of Wisdom to “tuesday morning market in calabria: part II”
  1. 05.13.2008

    Bargaining can be a lot of fun but as I’m more of a buyer than a shopper, I’m usually the one having to give in! Especially, if its shoes or scarves or calendars or wallets…. ( I walked away from a shoe store in Sorrento and had to take the ferry back to buy them when I couldn’t find anything like them in Naples). I don’t think I would have the nerve to bargain for food.

    Homebody at Heart’s last blog post..Arezzo

    Truth be told I’m not a very good bargainer either–too shy! I’m best when getting more than one thing, so if the total would come to say 12 euros, I’ll ask for everything for 10 or something. Oooh daring I know 😉

  2. Mary

    I’m not much of a bargainer although i’ve done it, usually without intending to, when I find something that is priced too high. The seller keeps lowering the price until I finally say yes. O always asks for a sconto when we go somewhere, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to do that yet.

    Mary’s last blog post..Vrrr…….

    Hah, I’ve unintentionally bargained too! I *almost* feel guilty then not buying the item after the seller works so hard 😉

  3. Gil

    I’ve got a feeling that the bargaining is helping these ladies achieve such old and healthy lives along with diet and exercise. Like the B & W touch in the photos.

    You’re probably right Gil–always on their toes! Glad you like the photos.

  4. Christina

    I love her! She’s just adorable; I bet you could certainly learn a lot from her! I love bargaining at the markets, I find it exciting and I rarely walk away without the item. It’s so fun when people come to my house and ask about something and I get to brag and explain no I didn’t pay that price. I bargained.

    So, Michelle what did you get from the market today?

    Christina’s last blog post..A few other things …

    Hee hee…I love bragging about bargains too 🙂

    I just got some fruit this morning–strawberries, kiwis, and apples. Looking forward to a great fruit salad later 🙂

  5. 05.13.2008

    Wow you have bought back some memories! I love the markets, I am pretty good at bargaining. I had my training in Thailand and Bali now there you have to do some serious bargaining 😉

    I love your photos they are great and the B&W adds a lovely touch.

    Vee’s last blog post..Motherhood

    See it’s the training that matters! Glad you enjoyed the post and photos 🙂

  6. 05.13.2008

    I am guessing that regular customers (like Concetta) can get away with bargaining with vendors. But, for someone like me who doesn’t go too often, I can see them turning me down. I’ve never had the courage to bargain. I guess I’m just so used to (having grown up in NJ) paying for the asking price. There was no such thing as bargaining there. But then, I never went to the open markets there. My experience is of shopping in stores, so maybe there was bargaining at the markets and I just didn’t know. Boh?

    I’ve seen bargaining at US food markets as well, but yes, I have to agree that the regulars are definitely given more leeway in the bargaining….

  7. 05.13.2008

    Brava Concettina! She sounds like a great old broad (pardon my French!). It seems like she’s got her bargaining technique down to a science. People don’t seem to bargain much in Milan and whenever I try the vendors almost never lower their prices. We’ve had better luck bargaining in India. My husband used to ask for one price, the vendor would say no and then my husband would ask for an even lower price. It worked every time!

    Linda’s last blog post..Paris – May Day, May Day!

    I’m sure Concetta would appreciate the compliment Linda 😉 That’s a great tip from your husband….

  8. Joanne

    What a character! And no, I haven’t got the courage to bargain although I love shopping the markets, something I can only do when I’m on holiday or playing hookey.

    Joanne’s last blog post..Food pop culture 2

    Yeah for playing hooky Joanne! I’m a staunch advocate of that 😉

  9. great post! love the story telling …and the photo of the scared vendor! 🙂

    erin :: the olive notes’s last blog post..smells of the city

    Thanks Erin. Doesn’t she look *thrilled* that I was taking her photo? 😉

  10. 05.13.2008

    Fantastic story. I love that old lady just from these words.

    running42k’s last blog post..An actual solution

    Passing an afternoon with Concetta is always a pleasure 🙂

  11. 05.13.2008

    Great story!! I have bargained, not for my fruits and veggies…but at the flea market…all the time.

    My motto….if they don’t give me the price I want, I walk away…and if I make another pass and it is still there….it is mine…if it’s not there..it was not meant to be.

    Well, that only applies if I sorta want something. If I am drooling, heavy-breathing, jumping up and down ’cause I have been looking for that thing for-e-v-e-r…than I pay for it, cause I HAVE TO HAVE IT 😉

    My Melange’s last blog post..Readers Report : Tips from Real Travelers

    Oh I’m like that too Robin–all bargaining rules go out the window when I *really* want something 😉

  12. 05.13.2008

    What a great post! Can you join Concetta for shopping some time? Tell her you need her experience 😉 I bet she’d share!

    We don’t bargain at our Farmers Market. It’s not done. If you don’t like the price, you wander on. The thing is, though, that most of the prices are the same between vendors, with the exception that the organics are higher (and better tasting, etc.)

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Police Academy

    I’m sure Concetta would welcome me as her shopping buddy–and then do all the bargaining for me 😉

    Actually bargaining is much more common at the “other” non-food markets here as well, but I’ve seen a good number of women arguing about all kinds of fruits and veggies as well 😉

  13. 05.13.2008

    I truly enjoyed this post. It is so sweet and so “real” Calabria! You make me miss it.

    themommykelly’s last blog post..Bad Mood Monday Musings

    One great thing about Calabria is that she doesn’t change much, so when you get back she’ll be pretty much the way you left her 😉

  14. 05.13.2008

    I love this. Concetta is the type of woman I would like to be. Despite being African by birth, I am far too English to be able to bargain at a market. Just the thought has me giggling nervously. I can imagine just where they’d tell me to get off if I tried to bring down the price at the local farmer’s market. Beautiful evocative pics, as always

    african vanielje’s last blog post..Banana lassi sunshine

    Glad you enjoyed this post, and I love your comment about being English 🙂

  15. 05.13.2008

    I’m always one to want to get the most bang for my buck….unfortunately bargaining (which I always have to do in another language) always intimidates me. I find the best way to go about it is to go with a set amount of money and explain, “but that’s all I have…so take it or leave it!”

    great pictures, there’s something so timeless about older Italian women. I never mess with one 🙂

    Eryn’s last blog post..Florence (events leading up to the wedding)

    Hah, I think that’s a good policy you have there Eryn 😉

  16. 05.13.2008

    We can all learn from Concetta!

    It never occurred to me to bargain at a food market; I’ve bargained at other markets, especially antique or flea markets, just sighing and saying, “It’s lovely, but too high a price for me”.

    Sometimes I can get a price break, sometimes I have to walk away.

    Devon Ellington’s last blog post..Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    I’ve had to walk away many times myself Devon. Sad indeed.

  17. 05.13.2008

    Depends on my mood when it comes to bargaining at the markets…sometimes I’m on top of my game and get out with a good deal, but then other times I give in without a fight. It is a lot of fun to come out of the market with great deals and I will talk for days about how good it felt to bargain them down!

    I can’t wait to get back to Italy!!

    Lisa’s last blog post..A man and his toys – Iron Man

    I have to agree Lisa–half the fun is the bragging once you get home from the market 😉

  18. 05.13.2008

    great story Michelle. The black and whites are fantastic.

    Glad you enjoyed Joe 🙂

  19. 05.13.2008

    Yes, the black and white really makes these timeless. It’s almost jarring to see the year 2008 in your watermark; could be 1978, 1948 — almost.

    Also from these angles, Concetta looks like she might be related to you. Is she?

    Not that I know of Sara, but I will tell you that she has always reminded me *very* much of some of my Italian relatives in the States (and no, not everyone here does) 😉

  20. wouldn’t it be great to be known as “Turi, the man with the best broccoli?”

    Paul, Paolo, l’altro P’s last blog post..Three fiddy

    Dare to dream!

  21. 05.14.2008

    Concetta seems like many of the older Italian women I know….won’t take no for an answer and know just what to say and do to get what they want.

    The black and white photos are brilliant!

    We went to a mercato when I was in Italy many years ago. It was an amazing experience…there was just SO much there.

    LuLu’s last blog post..Adventures of Learning a Language – Part 1

    Yes LuLu, Concetta is what we call Calabrese D.O.C. 😉 Hope you get back to enjoy more markets soon 🙂

  22. 05.14.2008

    I don’t think it gets any better having her for a market mentor.
    I love the first photo of her. She sounds like a woman with a great many stories to tell, and I’d be all too eager to listen. A perfect example of how our elderly are an abundant source of so much for us, yet so many people don’t get it.

    cheeky’s last blog post..words that resonate

    Concetta is *so* full of life Cheeky–you would absolutely love her. She is another one who told me all about how it was here during war times. So very, very interesting.

  23. 05.14.2008

    Bargaining? No, cannot do it. If I ever truly need to but something that I know should be cheaper, I take my mother-in-law. She is amazing, almost down right embarrassing! But, she always gets a good price.
    (Unfortunately, she still believes that you can bargain at clothing stores… That is when it gets really embarrassing!)

    Jill’s last blog post..Our Pilgrimage to Sant’ Alfio

    It can definitely get embarrassing–I hear you there! Clothing stores though? Gah!

  24. 05.14.2008

    I love both the photos and the story of this post!!

    I’m not much of a bargainer in general, although occasionally the mood will take me and I have fun trying. 🙂 Mostly though, I’d rather just know a price upfront and either pay it or walk away.

    DebR’s last blog post..The Chipmunk Saga: The Sad Conclusion

    Glad you enjoyed it Deb; I definitely have to be in the mood to haggle….

  25. 05.14.2008

    It’s considered very bad form where I live! Maybe for clothes or something, but produce, nevah. Instead they give you gifts or once in a while uno sconto.

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..My excuses

    I always thought that was the general rule too–until I saw them working their magic. Honestly I think it’s more b/c it’s a *very* small market and they all know each other really well; I don’t see it as much in the bigger market a few towns over.

  26. 05.14.2008

    Loved this! Wonderful example of how charming Italians can be. And an 80+ year old living in sin! Glorious!



    Alex’s last blog post..Note For Your Diary: The 2008 Gigli Festival Nola

    80+, living in sin, and volunteering the info the first time we met. Concetta is simply wonderful 🙂

  27. I totally suck at bargaining for things, even when I know it’s expected and accepted. I need a few lessons in this myself, perhaps I need to come down to visit and hang out with Concetta. She sounds like an absolute kick. 🙂

    Jessica, Italy Logue’s last blog post..Italy Photo of the Week: Quiet Canal (or Not)

    I’m a lot better than I was, but I’m still not very good…I need more lessons too Jessica 😉

  28. Wunschdenker

    Ciao, Sognatrice – what a funny, delightful story! I’m wondering if Markus and I have ever crossed paths with this young old lady dickerer, Concetta? I truly admire her, as it seems you do as well. I’m sorry to say, I’m simply no good at bargaining. Here at the Wochenmarkt in Radolfzell, dickering is (as far as I know) not really utilized – *unless* of course, one shows up at about 12:30, when the vendors are hurriedly packing things up and trying to get to their free time – if it’s Sat. – then maybe one can dicker, if they have the skill (read actually as “balls”) to do so. On Wed. – fahgehdaboutit…..
    Tschuess! Schoenen Donnerstag!

    I’m sure you know Concetta; she lives a little way up the hill toward the church.

    Dickering makes me laugh 😉

  29. 05.15.2008

    Great writing and photos. I’d love to visit your market although I’d be too intimidated to handle the veggies. In French markets they are ferocious if you touch the produce. I think they also see it as implying that you doubt the quality if you need to touch.

    sarala’s last blog post..Tuesday Challenge–Graffiti

    I always ask before I touch the veggies just in case….

  30. Scott Jankins

    Yea, I’ve got to touch the veggies if I go to the market. I try to be selective, but you got to look at what you buy especially if they are bananas

    Scott Jankins’s last blog post..Morning Banana Diet Secret

    Thanks for stopping by Scott!

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

Subscribe to Bleeding Espresso by email:

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio

Badolato Rentals

Badolato rentals

Badolato Properties For Sale

Properties for Sale, Badolato, Calabria, Italy

Photo Guide to Badolato On Sale!

Photographic Guide for Badolato, Calabria



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake