This week's What's That? Wednesday post is dedicated not to a new object or something distinctly Chinese, but rather to an action....an art form. The unfamiliar practice (at least unfamiliar to me) of bargaining. I've mentioned it in some of my earlier posts about bargaining, but I thought I'd dive into a little more detail today.
Bargaining is a way of life here. Just about everything is negotiable and if you're willing to take the time to haggle a bit, you get some really great deals. In the beginning it was very intimidating. Coming from a culture where all the prices are listed on the sales sticker, I didn't have much practice (although I have been known to ask in the States, "is this your best price?") And frankly, sometimes it comes down to squabbling over a dollar or two, or less. The exchange rate is roughly $1 USD to 6.4 RMB, so if I'm arguing over a 12 RMB price drop, that's only $2 or so.
The better actor/actress you are and the more showmanship you display, the better deal you can get. It's important to look utterly shocked and disgusted with the first price they offer you...seriously! Then the fun starts and you go back-and-forth until you've reached some agreement. They've got a distinct advantage, I am clearly marked as an expat and the prices automatically double. I've been told to offer half of what the first price is, but for some reason I usually drop it by about 40% to start.
In all but one instance I have had no emotional attachment to anything I'm haggling over and that is so helpful. In fact, most of the time I can literally walk to the next stall and buy the same thing and the seller is very aware of that. If I start to "walk away" (as in, walk away from the seller if they will not accept my final offer), I get called back and they will agree to my price. Otherwise I'll walk to their next door neighbor and negotiate a good price. The only time this has not worked was when we were looking for fabric and a seamstress to make the girls' Halloween costumes (which will be an entire post of it's own) and the lady didn't call me back! I was flabbergasted, but she knew I was an expat and I needed costumes by October 31st, so I was at a disadvantage. Lesson learned, go earlier!
Another trick is to lump purchases together. I did that when I was buying scarves (a few of you will see them at Christmas...). After the woman quoted me a price for 3 scarves and I said no, but I would pay that for 4 scarves. She initially said no, but as I started to walk away she said "okay, okay".
In the beginning I had to take some time to explain to the girls what was going on and try to let them in on the game. It was a little hard for LBean to "walk away" at first, but she has figured it out now! If fact, when we were negotiating for Halloween costumes she knew that when we walked away it was because the price was too high and we needed, in her words, "to look for lower numbers, a good price, right mom?"
I don't know enough Chinese yet to bargain completely verbally, but that's why I carry my small calculator in my purse and the numbers can talk for themselves. Plus, I've developed some pretty refined acting skills!
Be aware though, if you act interested in something, I might just negotiate for you just for the fun of it. While my mom was here visiting she started looking at a ceramic Chinese piggy bank in Tongli and before she knew it, I had negotiated an 80 RMB price (down from 120 RMB, to about $12.50) and she got to lug this piggy bank around. She threatened to leave it at our apartment, but I think it made it back to the States in her carry-on luggage. Sorry mom, hope you love your new pig!