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A trip to the market!

So, did you have a good Easter? Did you follow Jon’s advice to get out of the city? I spent the long weekend in Cornwall, visiting The Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligan. I have to admit, coming back to London after a few days in the countryside can seem a little unappealing at times. But three things I never get bored of in London are its parks, markets and museums. This week I’ll be giving you some useful language for strolling around markets.

What is a market?

The first thing to know is that when we say ‘market’ we mean an outdoor market.  There are also some covered markets in London (such as this one in Tooting) and of course there are many supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  In this post I’m thinking about traditional street markets where you can buy fresh food and maybe cheap bits and bobs, rather than the very touristy markets such as those at Camden and Portobello Road.


I don’t know about you but when I go round markets I’m generally just browsing around the stalls – i.e. looking around without much intention of buying anything.  So if the stallholder asks you if you need any help, you can say ‘no thanks, I’m just browsing.’  Actually, an old-school stallholder might ask ‘What can I do you for love?’ if you’re a woman, or ‘What can I do you for mate?’ if you’re a bloke.  It just means ‘How can I help you?’

Look but don’t touch!

Unlike in shops, it’s not always the done thing to touch the goods.  If you want to buy any food you usually have to ask the vendor to pick it and wrap it for you. 

What are all these weird measures?

One confusing thing in a traditional British market is that foodstuffs are still often sold in imperial, rather than metric, quantities.  If you’re not sure what these are you can check on this metric to imperial conversion site.

Can I bargain with the sellers?

Unlike in many countries it’s not very common to haggle for goods.  However, the good news is that the stallholders will often do you a deal anyway – the most common way of saying this is ‘I’ll do you (number) for a (price) – as in ‘I’ll do you four pineapples for a quid.’  Of course the best bargains tend to come towards the end of the day.  Many vendors also have great patter – this is where they try to flog their wares by speaking very quickly and at high volume.  It’s a little difficult to understand at first because it’s so fast and the intonation pattern is different to normal spoken English.  Here’s a nice mini-documentary about the decline of traditional street markets where you can see a little of the butcher’s patter.


Lots of students have told me that they get a bit flustered when they have to pay for something because there are quite a few different coins in our currency.  So they often pay with a note instead, even if they’re buying something very cheap.  That’s fine but to get in the vendor’s good books it’s polite to say ‘Sorry I haven’t got anything smaller’.  And because the stallholders might not always have that much change, be prepared for them to ask ‘Have you got anything smaller?’ when you try to pay for an apple with a £50 note!

So, have fun hitting the markets and let me know how you get on.  I’ll leave you with a link to my local market, Merton Abbey Mills.  It may not be world-famous but for the residents of Collier’s Wood it’s a local treasure!

By Laura


bits and bobs (n.) - small items (informal)

browse (v.) - to look around shops or stalls without looking for anything specific

stallholder (n.) - the seller in a traditional market.  Each table is called a stall.

old-school (adj.) - traditional

bloke (n.) - man (informal)

the done thing (exp.) - the socially acceptable way of behaving

vendor (n.) - seller

foodstuffs (n.) - different types of food

haggle (v.) - to negotiate with a vendor to get a lower price

quid (n.) - pound (informal)

flog (v.) - sell (informal)

wares (n.) - goods

flustered (adj.) - stressed and embarrassed

hit the + place (exp.) - visit somewhere in an enthusiastic way

local treasure (n.) - a small tourist attraction only visited by locals

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