I might still have problems asking for directions or ordering food, but I can say for sure that I’m more than comfortable negotiating a price in Chinese. I’m slowly acquiring the concept that in China everything assumes the form of an “art”.
So, as I learned shopping in Shanghai, like for drinking tea, bargaining is an art too.
The first step, obviously, is to ask how much the product we want to buy is: Duo Shao Qian? (in characters: 多少钱). Even before you have the time to follow up with the ritual Tai Gui Le! (太贵了！) – It’s too expensive! – and ask to go cheaper: Pian Yi Dian r Ba? (便易点儿吧?), the shop assistants have already put a big calculator under your nose.
“Ok, tell me your best price” – would be the most common suggestion. And this is when the bargaining starts.
The more you do it, the more you understand why it can be considered an art. It’s a fine psychological battle between you and the seller. You are obviously in a stronger position when you don’t really want the product, maybe you were just inquiring about the price but without a specific intention to buy it. This is when you can bargain better.
For example, at the beginning of the big cold here in Shanghai, I needed a warm winter hat. I went to the market and found only one I thought I could like. I tried it on, it would fit me but not as much as I hoped. At first I wanted it, but then keeping looking at myself in the mirror I started slowly changing my mind.
The initial price was 280 yuan, about 28 pounds sterling. “Now way,” I said. “Maximum I can spend 70 yuan for this hat.” Then the shopkeepers started going down to 240, 220, 200. I would stay on my 70 because I didn’t really want it.
Then I decided to think about it and have a look at other shops in the hope to find something I would like more. I told the sales assistants and left their shop. One followed me with my hat in her hands and offering it for 50 yuan, 20 less than my suggested price. Of course I bought it then, even if I wasn’t too convinced.
Now, in this particular occasion I don’t really know who was the good bargainer. Ok, I bought it for 50 yuan when the original price was 280, but after all they made me buy something I didn’t want anymore.
Chinese sellers truly have a knack for entering their customers’ minds, and they really understand when people are dying for an item.
This is when the bargaining becomes a challenge for the customer, and when they need to “act” as if they don’t really want to buy. Of course, easier said than done.
What customers should keep in mind is that China is the world’s factory, they produce everything in large scale, so they really want to sell.
If they absolutely refuse to go down with the price, the reasons can be two: they really can’t, meaning that if they accept your price they don’t make any earning themselves, or it’s a busy day and they know they will sell the item you want to other customers very easily. This is why it’s always best to avoid shopping in China during the weekend.
Apart from buying at convenient prices, I’m finding shopping in Shanghai is the best way to practice my Chinese.
It goes without saying that my accent causes everybody’s hilarity, but never mind, I like to think that Chinese is awfully difficult.
This being said, there are some cases when I can’t bargain. One of these is at the tailor shop. By all means I ask for the best price they can offer, and I know that they inevitably charge more, but I’m paying for their work, and I don’t feel comfortable bargaining too much.
Maybe it doesn’t really make sense, as in the other shops they might not have produced the things they sell but they do work for 8+ hours a day and they do get commission on what they sell.
As for many other occasions, also the bargaining process is chatty, funny and most of all, very loud.
In Europe is not even conceivable to bargain a price, and when I went to Istanbul I couldn’t bargain much because sellers were way too tough, but in China everything takes the form of an art, a social ceremony.
All Chinese style, easygoing and down-to-earth.