Of course one of the many things you’re going to do during your trip is…buying!
Whether it’s paying for taxis, buying food at restaurants, shopping at the market, or paying a bribe to policemen (kidding! kind of…) you’re going to need a little Swahili to get you through it.
The cool thing about buying stuff in Kenya and Tanzania is the shilling is often in very large multiples. For example, one US dollar is around 2,000 Tanzanian shillings and 100 Kenyan shillings.
This makes it a great opportunity to practice your numbers, and not just your numbers 1-10, but you numbers way into the hundreds of thousands and maybe even the millions.
As for the phrases you will need, let’ see…
How much is it?
There are many ways to say this.
In Tanzania, they say ni shilingi ngapi? which means how many shillings is it?
However, it is often more common for people to simply say shingapi? which is a shortened form.
In Kenya, people generally do not say shingapi and if you do say it in Kenya, they will either not quite understand you, or know that you have been spending time in Tanzania.
Instead, Kenyans often say ni pesa ngapi? (how much money is it?) or simply ni ngapi? (how much is it?).
In both countries, it is also understood if you say unuzaje? This literally means “how do you sell it?” and is commonly used at places like fruit markets and food stalls. This is because many things don’t have a single price – for example tomatoes might be sold as five for 1,000 shillings – so you ask the vendor how it is sold rather than what is the price.
Some other helpful phrases
Ninataka kununua x – I want to buy x
Ninahitaji kununa x – I need to buy x
Unauza x? – Do you sell x?
Naweza kununua x wapi? – Where can I buy x?
Ni gali sana – It’s very expensive.
Naomba rahisi kidogo, tafadhali – Can I have it a bit cheaper, please.
Naomba nyingine – I’d like another one.
Nitarudi baadaye – I will come back later.
Ni zawadi – It’s a gift.
As you walk around shops, people will often say to you karibu, which means you are welcome.
This is simply a vendor’s way of being polite and welcoming you to their store.
Of course this does not mean you have to enter their store, but it is always polite to respond.
The correct response is simply asante, which means thank you.
Particularly in markets, bargaining is common place and the price that you are going to get offered will likely be very inflated from the usual price.
Before you go shopping at markets, it’s always a good idea to go with a local friend, or at least ask them what a reasonable price should be for the things you’re looking to buy.
It also helps to banter with them and smile a lot – Tanzanians and Kenyans alike always appreciate personality and laughter. If they like you, they are much more likely to want to give you a fair price.
One funny thing you can say to try and win hearts is mimi sio mzungu, mimi ni mtanzania! (or mkenya). This translates to “I am not a foreigner, I’m Tanzanian! (or Kenyan). Say this is in jest and it will surely get a laugh.
You can also say mimi sitaki mzungu bei, naomba mbogo bei which means “I don’t want the foreigner price, I want the local price”.
Remember, bargaining in this part of the world is not supposed to be confrontational, it’s supposed to be fun and light hearted. Always keep a smile on your face and say things with a laugh and tenderness, and you’ll surely have a great time (and get some great prices too!).
Until next time!