…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row

The Tao of Haggling – From Someone Who Hates to Bargain

Sometimes I think i should not have been born Chinese: My ability-to-haggle-gene must have  been destroyed when I integrated into Western society… along with my propensity to carry large wads of cash and ability to eat chicken claws.

I believe it’s impolite and self-defeating to haggle in certain situations, such as when you’re on a rapidly-sinking ship and there’s only one spare life jacket left and it costs US$100.00 (Too much!  I won’t go over US$50.00!), or when the Saleslady has spent the last 25 minutes looking for the pair of shoes that you want, except you end up not buying it, because she wouldn’t go down another US$0.50/ea.

Sometimes I feel like a big retard in China, because I spend 15 minutes haggling down the cost of a pirated VCD from US$2.57/ea to US$2.35/ea during my one hour lunch break, only to wait in line for another 25 minutes and blow US$2.35 on a Mcdonald’s Filet-o-Fish that’s so small that it fits in the palm of my hand.

Now, I’ve figured out that it’s not enough to simply go through the motions of haggling, but that you must “believe” in the process and “totally immerse yourself in the belief” that the item you are trying to bargain down is really OVERPRICED.

Once you are in the mindset that this item truly IS OVERPRICED, your haggling techniques will reflect this belief and your excuses/reasons for lowering the price will be all the more believable.

I’ve noticed that people in china, who have grown up in china, bargain as easily as if they were blowing their noses.  What is so stressful (and stupid) for me, is like second skin to every Chinese.  So, since I have no proven techniques of my own, I’ll now share some of the methods I’ve seen that seem to work:

(a) First, you act completely disinterested in the item you want to really want to purchase… pointing out that the item’s a piece of crap, overpriced, poor workmanship/quality… but then, you’ll do the store a favor and buy it.

(b) Next, you ask for the price of the item, and whatever the price is … you say that it’s too expensive.  (Some exaggerated gestures of disgust, anger and shock may also help here.)

(c) Then, you state an insulting price that the seller certainly wouldn’t accept, like US$0.10 for a pair of leather loafers or US$2.50 for a brand new mountain bike. (At this point, you just have to throw your sense of propriety and self-consciousness away).

(d) YOU MUST BE ABLE TO TAKE the anger and contempt the shopkeeper has towards you after your insane low balling.  If you crumple up and weaken at this point, you’re dead.  In fact, not only may you be doomed to paying full price, but the shopkeeper may not even want to sell to you anymore… plus, your name will go down in the Bargaining Hall of Shame.

(e) IF YOU HOLD YOUR GROUND and justify the high price by repeating your concerns, the seller will come back to you with one of the following:

1/  The Sob Story — your asking price is way below his cost.  He/She has got to feed the kids and the sick, aging mother…his/her store was robbed last month and all inventory taken, except for this one “precious item” that you’ve got your eagle eye on now…if he/she keeps selling items so cheap his/her store will have to close.
2/  The Logical Approach — at the ABC Mart, this item you want for a ridiculous price sells for 20 times what it’s being sold here.  And, at the ABC Mart they’re not giving away a free can of Spam/a bag of dried squid/a Lunar calendar containing the twelve chinese zodiac signs with every purchase!

Every item you purchase with this seller is guaranteed for the life of the product, but you won’t ever need to bring it in, because this product will NEVER EVER break or die on you.

But just in case, the seller will give you an officially-stamped guarantee certificate, which you should put in a safe place, in case you ever need it — but you won’t — because every product in this store is safe and guaranteed….

3/  The Angry, Brick Wall Approach — some sellers take lowballing very personally and may come right back with an emphatic NO and then walk off in a big huff.
4/  The Cajoling / Suck-up Approach —  “Oh, this coat looks SO GOOD on you!  You must be a movie star!”… “What’s a few extra dollars when these pants fit you so well!”…”Now, I’ll bet you don’t see a scarf like that everyday… I just sold one dozen this morning for US$15.00/ea and now i’m offering it to you at US$10.00/ea!  I’m practically giving it away”.

The key to successful bargaining is TIME: meaning, should you have a lot of time on your hands AND a high tolerance for BS-ing and listening to others’ BS, you should be fine.

Here is another effective method (for women only):


I was having my apartment in China remodeled and one of the workers laying the wood floors accidentally sprayed oil all over my newly-painted, plaster walls.

The boss of the wood floor company is (curiously) a single, young woman.  It’s curious and unusual for a single, young woman to be presiding over a wood floor company and even more unusual since the woman was never dressed like she was going to install a wood floor.

She always wore something shiny and revealing and hugely inappropriate for installing wood floors.  I’ve also never seen her install a wood floor, but whenever she bent over the workers installing the floor to inspect their work, the workers always seemed to work that much harder.

I guessed that she was the mistress of some rich guy who built his business on wood floors and he let her manage this portion as a “hobby”.

Because the mistake was obviously her company’s fault, this boss had to fix the problem, which meant digging out the areas that had been sprayed with oil, re-plastering and re-painting.  And since she was a wood floor company, she had to rely on my general contractor (whose name was Shao) to do the job.  The only question was the price….

SHAO: US$50 and i can’t go a penny less!

BOSS: (Sitting on a pile of empty cardboard boxes with her legs wide open and whining) Awww… c’mon shao!  give us a break!  You can see what a bind we’re in!

SHAO: (Grinning sheepishly) Hehehee…. this is not an “EASY” job… hehehee….

BOSS: What?  This little spill….?  (Getting up and swinging her hips as she is walking in an exaggerated fashion over to the soiled wall)  Oh, this is a small job for someone like you!  It’s a piece of cake!  You can do it asleep with your littlest finger….

SHAO: (Feigning surprise) Piece of  cake my ass!  (Joins BOSS at the wall).  You see this spot here (rubbing at it feverishly with his right index finger)… look at how far down the oil has seeped into the walls!  My price of $50.00 is a bargain!  I’ll be spending days on this.  My workers have all finished and gone home and now I have to call them out just for this one little job….

BOSS: (Pouting and stomping her feet — on my new wood floors — with every word) “$50.00-is-too-much!”

SHAO: Well, how much you want to pay?

BOSS: (Leaning over slightly, so Shao can see the depth of her breasts) I won’t pay a penny more than $40.00!

SHAO: (Scowling)
BOSS:  Ohh… c’mon shao!  We go a long ways back!
SHAO: (Angrily) OK, OK! Fine! I just don’t make any money on this job!

So, to summarize, here is the tao of haggling:

1.  CONVINCE yourself that you’re being ripped off, no matter what the item and its cost.
2.  ALLOW yourself unlimited time for bargaining…
3.  BE PREPARED to walk away, if necessary.
4.  ARGUING with the seller is not done in a mean-spirited manner.  Why get all bent out of shape over a set of steak knives?!
5.  KNOW when to stop.  if you’re bargaining for a filling that costs US$2.00, you WILL GET A FILLING THE COSTS US$2.00.

3 comments on “The Tao of Haggling – From Someone Who Hates to Bargain

  1. elmer
    November 1, 2011

    This is hilarious. Reminds me of shopkeepers in Silk Street who almost split my body in two


    • lostnchina
      November 2, 2011

      Yes, the Chinese drive a hard bargain. But sometimes, when the difference is only US$0.10, and you have to suffer the abuse, you wonder if it’s all worthwhile?


      • elmer
        November 2, 2011

        Yeah i think so susan, i think its not about the money money money. i think its not about the bogus signature items, i think its not about the harmful toys, pricey souvenirs etc. i think its about HAGGLING. i think it’s a pseudo-culture. i think its a challenge. everybody wants to beat the shopkeepers. beat those shopkeepers and sleep smiling. they waited prepared, we come prepared. i think its a sport. get the most, pay the least. i think it should be an olympic event. there ought to be a haggling stadium. or better yet a Haggler’s MasterCard.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on February 1, 2007 by in China, Humor and tagged , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: