Sunday, April 03, 2011

Contact Sport

There's a sort of tune that dickering for purchases has in China. You're called in to the store or booth then the seller shows you how wonderful everything is. Next you ask the price. Then you're told something ridiculous - this would be the $600 orange that Mary Jo Shively spoke of. After that you offer something between 50 and 90% less than what you've been quoted. At some point the shop keeper tells you they won't make any money. If you're tough they'll call one of your prices "joking price." You can throw in that you're local or that the item is poorly made. There are no hard feelings here, it's all part of the arrangement. Your partner in this little dance can do a woeful head shake while repeating "no" a whole bunch of times. If things get especially bad you can just walk away. I enjoy this tactic. Often you'll be chased down and your price is agreed on. You can also just get out the amount of money you're willing to pay and tell the person to take it now or you're leaving. Weirdly that works a lot of the time. Sometimes you don't even have to hear the words you can just listen to the tone and know what part of the negotiation is happening.

We went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on our first afternoon in the Beijing area. The approach we took brought us through a little village of touristy stalls, a street fair with the Great Wall of China as a theme. We were going up pretty late in the day, though. Stall keepers called out to us and called out to us but we were in a hurry. One gentleman had L's number. He had some t-shirts and she needed them! She promised him that she would see him when we came down.

By the time we descended it was late and most of the stalls had closed up. This man, though, remembered her. His stall was in the second ring of shops and he'd been peeking through a break in them to look for L. When he ran toward us she knew she had to get something from him so she headed toward the stall and the negotiation began. They were both tough. Our tour guide, Tracy, stepped in briefly to help clarify some things for both sides. Eventually she came away with a couple of t-shirts at what we think was a decent price.

Buying stuff, it's a contact sport.

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