Haggle? In the high street? No, madam. We don't do that here

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The Independent Online

So we shouldn't haggle hard abroad - but can we do it here? I gave it a try in the West End.

So we shouldn't haggle hard abroad - but can we do it here? I gave it a try in the West End.

"Can I have a discount if I buy three pairs of shoes?" I asked in Debenhams in Oxford Street. The assistant looked flustered. "I'll ask the cashier." A brief consultation followed, both of them eyeing me as if I were unhinged at the least, and quite possibly a public danger. "No. We don't do that."

Apparently it's easy enough to get a few pounds knocked off the bill if you're a celebrity shopper; for a shopkeeper seeing your stuff flaunted by a glittering name is worth a discount. For ordinary mortals, however, haggling in the high street is a cringe-making experience.

Hoping that Top Shop would be a bit more laid back, I fought my way through a scrum of tourists to secure three T-shirts in various shades of green.

"Can I have these three for £25?" I yelled over a sound-track of belting dance music.

"They're £10 each," the assistant yelled back.

"I've only £25 on me," I lied.

"Can't you put them on a card?" she asked irritably.

"I haven't got a card," I fibbed.

"Well, you'll have to put one back," she snapped. Huh.

It would all have been very different if I happened to appear regularly in the gossip columns, or was even married to someone who did. Paying full price for clothes and accessories simply doesn't happen to even such dubious-quality celebs as Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, who recently confessed that she even gets a 20 per cent discount at Kookai (Kookai! surely everyone can afford to pay full price there). Royalty don't pay full price either; the Queen gets a discount on her bulk-purchase Christmas puddings, while freebie hols abroad are the province of the politician.

> Perhaps I was aiming too high. Would the man at the fruit stall let me have five lemons for £1, rather than his advertised deal of only four? Yes, he would. Successful haggling had saved me 25p.

Flushed with success, I moved on to Books Etc. Their summer promotion this year is three paperbacks for £15. At the till, however, the eagle-eyed assistant noticed that one of my choices wasn't covered by the offer.

"Oh, but those are the ones I really want," I sighed.

With a smile, he put them through the till at £15, saving me £1.99 on the third title. Still, better than nothing.

On to Marks & Spencer. Every British citizen knows you don't haggle in M&S, so I pretended I was foreign. Brandishing an armful of laden hangers, I hissed "Deescount? Cash! Cash!" at a startled assistant.

"No, madam, no discount. Not even for cash," she said, reasonably politely, though when I turned back a moment later she was snickering with her colleague.

Time to go for broke, in the hallowed portals of Selfridges. In a glass case, there was an evening bag made of orange leather, decorated with leather flowers, priced at £88.95 - a horrible item. Surely they'd be glad to have me take it off their hands.

I bearded a saleslady. "Can I have a discount on this handbag?" I asked, as brazenly as possible. She looked me up and down. "Why?"Good question. "Because I'm worth it?" Sadly it seems I wasn't worth it. The best way to get a discount in this country is either to get very famous very quickly, or to shop in the sales.

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