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?
Just wanted to say thank you guys for having me here. I’m glad I don’t need to haggle that much as everyone knows me here in Dalang :). It feels great to be treated like a local :-).
Agness, it’s our pleasure to share your tips here on Backpack ME.
And when we visit China again, we’ll be sure to put them into practice too!
Beware China… we’re gonna be ready to haggle!! ;)
haggling is a much needed skill in Asia that’s for sure!
This is an excellent guide! I had a lot of fun learning the hand gestures for numbers – very useful to be able to do 1-9 with just one hand! I didn’t know that about older generations of Chinese not liking to bargain as much as younger people, how interesting. I wonder why that is.
Another great and useful post, Agness! We always haggle as much as possible, so be sure we will try your tips in practice during our trip next year!
Such a useful post Agness. Ahh, I am absolutely ready for China now :)
Oh man! I lived in mainland China for a short while in my teens and these were all lessons I had to learn the hard way. Great tips for anyone who’s planning on visiting the country!
One thing that never fails is to inspect the merchandise or whatever you want to buy and point out all the defects (if any).
Walking away is usually a great way to seal a deal at a very cheap price.
I did not like haggling but after almost 10 years in China, I got to like it. Even when I go to a hotel, I ask for a discount price now.
Does it normally work in hotels too? I mean.. street markets and all yes, but I didn’t think it would work as much in hotels, unless it’s low season in a particularly touristic area.
Good for you to like it now.. haggling is a very good skill to have as a traveler!!
Always ask for a cheaper price at a hotel or hostel, especially if you arrive late at night! This works everywhere, not just in China. While some places will give you a flat-out “no”, others are willing to ask their manager. For example, in Uzbekistan we were able to snag a lux double room for the price of a regular single just by being persistent and nice, and in Dublin we snagged a room at the airport Mariott for our six-hour overnight layover for €20 cheaper than the official rate. If they know they’re not going to be able to fill a room otherwise, most hotels are willing to negotiate. :)
This is a great post for all of Asia! We’ve done miserable at haggling so far but will start practicing your tips! :)
repeat after me, (phonetically) “tye gway lah” this plus a shocked look on your face and a walk-away and you are golden. Use their calculator or your phone’s keypad to communicate if you don’t speak Chinese. Do a little research on your city and/or market, the typical Beijing Silk Market quoted price to actual price was usually 4 to 1 or so. For most items, if you can’t buy it from one vendor another will be happy to give you the deal. Check out taobao.com for prices to compare (again phonetically) “wo kan jigga zai taobao ______(number)_____”. Basically “I saw this on taobao for ______”. This tactic is more and more useful as most vendors are competing with online sales. Also point out any defects (real or imagined) and watch your price drop.