Whether you like it or not, haggling is a big part of daily life in China. Whether it’s for a cab fare, bus ticket, street food or even clothes in local stores, you just cannot get away without being able to haggle. The good news is that Chinese are not as pushy as the rest of locals in, for example, India or South-East Asian countries so you can still enjoy it without getting frustrated or annoyed.
1. Use hand signals
First thing to know is that learning numbers is a good way to start your Chinese language career. The Chinese have hand signals for 1-10 and it would be really good to learn these too to aid your haggling prowess (look at 3 pictures below illustrating the hand signals for each number). As you can see, 1 to 5 are simple, you just hold up the correct number of fingers:
一1 – yī
二2 – èr
三3 – sān
四4 – sì
五5 – wǔ
六6 – liù – For 6, you bend your middle three fingers into a fist, and point your thumb and little finger outwards
七7 – qī – For 7, bring your thumb and first two fingers together
八8 – bā – For 8, form a “gun” shape with your thumb and index finger
九9 – jiǔ – 9 is a curl of the index finger
十10 – shí – 10 is a crossing of your index finger from each hand.
Once learnt, these symbols are lifesavers, especially when you are somewhere where you it’s not easy to establish the difference between 4 and 10. There can be provincial differences to some of these hand gestures, 7 was a complicated topic when checking with various Chinese
colleagues, so just watch out for this.
2. Seller – buyer interactions
Most haggling starts with a price from the seller. You can reply back with a lower number. Sometimes the seller with give you a calculator if you are in a shop or market stall to show them the price that you want to pay. The basic rule is, although you have entered into haggling, this does not mean that you have to buy the product. If the seller won’t agree on a price you are happy with, walk away. Sometimes, you walking away will make the seller concede and you’ll get the price you want, but not all the time. This goes the same for getting a taxi or bike anywhere too. If you think they are trying to rip you off, just walk away.
3. Basic Tips
Here are some useful bargaining tips (most of the rules apply to all Asian countries):
1. Chinese love to bargain so the more fun you have when doing so, the less money you pay.
2. You need to be extremely confident when haggling. The more you push the seller, the better.
3. The older generation of Chinese are less likely to bargain and they don’t like to bargain. If you see two stands with the same items, go to the younger seller.
4. It is extremely useful to pick up some basic Chinese phrases such as “How much does it cost?” and “It’s too expensive”. Chinese are happy when they hear foreigners speak their language.
5. Always pay before you get the item as locals are likely to change the price at the last moment.
6. Very important: make sure they understand what you are saying, especially when it comes to the amount of money and the number of items you are trying to buy. Show them 3 fingers if you want 3 apples and show them a note of ¥10 if you want to pay this price for the apples.
7. Always give the seller the exact amount of money if you can.
8. Check the change twice if you have to give more.
9. Never argue if you don’t like the price. Walk away nicely if you think it is too much or be more patient with the seller otherwise you will lose face and no-one will want to sell to you.
10. Try to guess from seller’s face expression when you crossed the line and what price is too low for him. You will then be sure that you will not get anything cheaper than this.
11. If you see two pretty much the same stands never go from one to another hoping to get lower price. Chinese sellers are very loyal so if one seller didn’t give you the price you expected, the other one probably won’t do it either (he or she was already informed about the price you wanted to pay and the price suggested by their colleague).
Bargaining is a ritual for Chinese. If you don’t like bargaining, you will be always paying more than you should. Everything comes with time though. You can easily master the art of bargaining if you are very determined and practice a lot. You can learn more and more
from everyday situations. If you still can’t handle it, just accept the reality of China and let it go (and let go of your money too).
If you would like to read more about China, you can check out my “Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book which sums up my two-year experience of teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.
Have you ever been forced to haggle when traveling?
If so, how did it go?
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AGNESS is a Polish travel blogger who has been traveling and living in different Asian countries since 2011. She is well known for traveling the world for less than $25 per day and she shares her tricks and tips with the readers of her blog called eTramping.com. Moreover, she is a food lover obsessed with Chinese cuisine, yoga passionate, life enthusiast and photography freak.
Do you have some tips on how to get by on your side of the world?