Most of you have your own stories of bargaining in Asia. I bet you your experiences range from outrageously funny to totally humiliating.
I would love to hear those stories. To prod you a bit, here are some of the few experiences in bargaining I've had in the past few decades.
Bargaining in Karachi
Once in Karachi's market, a small boy with a mountain of t-shirts staggered up, begging us to buy.
My husband puffed up to his full stature, and with a stern eye and a voice of utmost authority, he instructed the lad that he would buy one shirt but would only pay 70 rupees, thus demonstrating his mastery of t-shirt prices on the market that day.
The lad picked up from beneath his tent of Ts and with a trembling voice said, But Sir, this t-shirt is only 50 rupees.
A quick peek around the market to discover the humiliation's breadth revealed a world in tears of laughter. All we could do is laugh as well.
Bargaining for Pashmina Scarves in Nepal
In yet another store, quite probably in Nepal, we had spread out a range of Pashmina scarves. Each of us has our stash of favorites. Simultaneously, we each declared our opening price in the negotiation, and there was a chasm between the two declarations.
The seller responded to each of us. Realizing our error, we began negotiating with ourselves. The three of us arrived at a range of agreements that confused the seller; he forgot his real cost.
Pleased with our deal, although irritated a bit with each other, we strutted off further into Thamel to do further battle. At the end of the further blistering session, we went to the car. There was the seller of the scarves with the bleak look on his collapsed face. In his hand was our stack of bills, and he gave us his pathetic story.
In confusion, the price we agreed to was much lower than his Boss had paid for the scarves in the first place. It was clear that if we push our triumph, it will cost him his job. So we returned the scarves, took the money, and reflected on the lesson of multiple but simultaneous negotiations.
Seller Refused to Bargain
In Indonesia, a colleague brought us to a store owned by his friend, promising us a fair deal. The store owner realized his trap between offending his friend or losing money on any sale and refused to discuss any transaction.
The Art of Bargaining in Jordan
Our friend asked that it be polished so that we could view its full loveliness before setting a fair price. We put forward our opening position, which the merchant countered, noting that it was worth much more now that the mirror was polished. After cups of tea, speculations on the meaning of life, and statements on humanity's future, we approached a compromise price.
Our friend's neighbor had been off to another store and negotiating in Arabic with the gentleness of a camel bound warrior, including threats and implied curses on the seller's relatives. She, too, arrived at a price. Our price undercut hers by about half. The lesson learned: patience, show interest, develop a relationship if you can, and not only will you get a better deal, but you'll have a story to tell that's worth infinitely more than the wretched mirror.
Bargaining in Asia Protocols
Other than common courtesy, politeness, and an unhurried sense of consideration, it's difficult to generalize the skills required from one Asian market to another.
Different Asian markets have other protocols. Thailand, for example, if you show irritation and raise your voice, sellers may not sell to you. They expect politeness and don't want trouble. If you are soft-spoken and deal with them gently, they often will give you a better price.
In Vietnam, I noticed my local friend's first remark on some negative things about the goods. It seems to give them a better bargaining position.
Before going to a market:
For some, bargaining is fun and relaxing, and a great experience worth more than the item purchased. For others, it's an exhausting experience and best avoided.
As a result of hard bargaining and extensive negotiation, I have sometimes saved as much as five cents. It just wasn't worth it. If it's the game of bargaining, then it's fun. If it's the hard work of getting things for a few cents less, it's a waste of time for me.
There are also times when I have seen something I wanted, was unable to come up with a price, and walked away from what I wanted in a fit of pride for the sake of two or three dollars. I suppose we all have to deal with ourselves as we cope with cultures and persons' intricacies.
I don't know about you, but each time I go to the market, I learn or relearn something about prices and myself.
If you want to take a lesson in bargaining, watch American Pickers. Mike and Frank have a great negotiating style that builds on the seller's dignity while leading to fair agreements on bargain prices.