Negotiating in Chinatown

Pacific AveI needed to buy about a few umbrellas, and as I walked down Stockton street, I checked the prices in a few stores. mostly it bottomed out at $3.99 for a tall walking one. A lady in front of one of the produce markets told me it was 3$/umbrella. Well, she just held her fingers up. I started asking her if I got a discount if I bought more than one. Quickly realized she doesn’t speak any English. So this is a first for me- negotiating in Chinatown, which I’ve put off doing for 2 years, despite negotiating quite a bit in China itself. I broke down and said, in Chinese-Mandarin “How much for 2?” and she got a big smile on her face. The charm only went so far since she still refused to go below $3, and pulled in some woman walking by to translate that it was, really, just 2 for 6$, not cheaper. The lady she pulled of the street wants me to follow her up the street to her store-saying this in Mandarin. I say I’m walking the other way, towards home. As I start to walk, the umbrella vendor yells above the crowd ‘Hao!” – roughly, good, ok- and, I say “2 for $5” And she agrees, and we start to exchange money.

Thing that got me in China is that even if you say “I only have $5”, during negotiations, but pull out a $10 bill to get change, the vendor won’t bat an eye. It’s just part of the respected art of getting the cheapest price. So I hand her a 20 and she painfully counts out 14 dollars and 50 cents. This erupts into more, “I gave you 20, give me back 15” phrases in Mandarin, which she gets some new translator from the sidewalk, who also doesn’t speak English, to tell me in Mandarin that it was $5.50, not $5. I wonder if, in America, you go down in increments of 50 cents. In china, it was increments of a yuen, roughly 17 cents. The vendor believes my understanding, I guess, so, she agrees and lets me have it for the final negotiation, 2 for $5. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still fleeced, but at least I’ve broken the ice on negotiating! I just wish could magically pick up Cantonese. The hardest thing is that I don’t know the Chinese words for American denominations- all I learned was yuens. I said the English words, but sometimes cognates don’t make sense unless you have a heavy accent- it’s like there’s an accepted tonal way to say “coffee” ca1 fe1- despite it being an English word.

1 Comment so far

  1. Zhou Enlai (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 12:34 am

    You should have asked her to throw in some
    Whitening Cream to sweeten the deal.

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