The Price of Bargaining – Letters from a Jamaican in China

Read any guidebook for China and it will tell you that you have to bargain for most things here. They are wrong. The truth is you have to bargain mercilessly for everything. Since western fashion is limited here it’s not uncommon to have a friend with the same shoes or shirt as you. It’s not considered impolite to ask what they paid for it to see who got the better deal. It so happened on a night out with the girls my friend came in with the exact pair of shoes I’d bought at the market that day. I was proud of myself because the shopkeeper started at 300 Yuan and I got her down to 150 Yuan, that is, until the room fell silent. I figured for once I got a better price than someone else (I am very bad at bargaining), then she told me she paid 40 Yuan. 40 YUAN! There must have been some mistake maybe she went to a different stall or maybe hers were a cheaper quality or something. But nope, she got her shoes from the hazel-eyed lady on the second floor in the 8th stall just like me. I do know that foreigners will pay more for things here. I never usually get as bad as my friends do in bargaining because I figure they have to make money and consider their kids and all that crap. We make 10 times more than locals do and usually it’s only a few Yuan more. But whola 110 Yuan ma? Dat jus nuh right.
I made up my mind that tomorrow I would go to the market and clean house. The next day my friend and me got up early ready to do damage. I decided that I was taking 400 Yuan with me and with it I was going to buy a whole new wardrobe.

There are different methods of bargaining that usually coincide with how bad you want something. First you can play the “please reduce it I’m only an innocent foreigner” role. That one usually works on men. Then there’s the peace agreement tactic: “I want this, you want to make money, lets come to a reasonable price.” You seal that deal by walking away if they won’t agree and then they usually call you back. Or there’s the old: “I don’t mind paying your ridiculous price but it so happens that I only have “X” amount of money left and if you want any money at all you’ll take what I have.” And then there’s what’s known as the lowest method of bargaining; pretending to cry because you want that item so bad if you pay more you won’t have any money for the taxi home. Chinese people are paralyzed at the sight of a crying foreigner; they will do just about anything to make you stop. Equally pathetic is the “China is such a wonderful country “ card. If all else fails, talking really loud and really fast and possibly even threatening the clerk in English always works. Because the last thing shopkeepers want is a foreigner a galong like seh dem mad. Usually the latter gets you just about everything for next to nothing.

I went on a rampage that day. I was absolutely ruthless. I had about 120 Yuan left when on the way to Starbucks we came across a guy selling DVDs. As a perfect end to the reign of Shelly the Bargainator, I decided I would get DVDs at local prices. Foreigners usually pay 5 or 6 Yuan, locals pay 2 or 3. I didn’t even start out nice with him; I selected 10 of the latest DVDs and let him know he was only getting 20 Yuan for all of them. We argued for 30 minutes until finally I broke him. HA! In your face, vendors of Guangzhou! No one can beat the Bargainator! My friend was very proud of me considering that I used to allow myself to be cheated. We went home with our loot, elated that for once we got the best of about a dozen Chinese shopkeepers.

3 pairs of knockoff designer jeans—90 Yuan
1 linen dress, 2 linen pants and a shirt—90 Yuan
3 pairs of shoes, a gypsy skirt and earrings—100 Yuan
10 illegal DVDs of the latest movies in theatres—20 Yuan

The look on our faces when we realized that jerk sold us 10 BLANK discs and wasted 30 minutes of our time in doing so…..PRICELESS!