Friday, October 10, 2014

How Not to Haggle

Haggle: to talk or argue with someone especially in order to agree on a price  

     Like most Americans, I don't haggle on a regular basis. Culturally, it's not a norm, and that's fine--except when I'm studying away in a culture in which haggling is very much an everyday experience. If you can't tell, this is one of those stories in which I did not get it right.

     First, the scene:

     I'm going to offend your intelligence by informing you that this is, in fact, the Great Wall. Shocking, no? As a side note, this was the clearest day we'd had so far in Beijing for about a week and a half. We wouldn't see skies like that until weeks later when we flew to Tibet. Our tour guide, plus random pedestrians on the street, often would remind us how lucky we were with the weather.
     Back to the story. As you can see from the picture, it was a fabulous day. The sun was shining, the birds sang, and the mosquitoes whined continually in our ears as we trekked up endless stairs to get to the Great Wall. The humidity made walking into swimming. When we finally climbed the last flight of stone stairs--which had steps so worn that they bowed in the middle--and emerged upon the ancient architecture, a welcome breeze ruffled hair with gentle fingers. We spent a good thirty minutes standing and admiring the landscape spread before us.

Although the heat and humidity were considerably more bearable on the Wall, we were all dehydrated. Lucky for us, a few enterprising locals had set up shop and were selling water, Snickers, and, of course, beer.

Did I say "stairs"? I meant "climb of death". We would often pass other sweaty tourists sprawled in the sparse shade.
     Seeing the heavenly gift of water, I staggered towards the promise of refreshment, wearily pulling out my wallet.
     "How much?" I asked, butchering the simple Chinese phrase.
     "30 kuai." The man answered. It was about five U.S. dollars. I narrowed my eyes, it was much more expensive than usual, but then my parched throat tightened, and I handed him the money.

     This is not how you haggle. This is how to lose 30 kuai on a bottle of water which normally would have sold for 3 kuai. 3 kuai. At a price of 30 kuai, I would expect the water to be unicorn tears which were collected by nymphs under a full moon. I'm betting that this was not the case.

     I was informed before leaving that in China, haggling is expected during most transactions. This was not new information, but in the heat of the afternoon sun, my memory faltered and I became one of the many oblivious tourists to buy a bottle of water.
     On the bright side, I probably made that man's day.

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