Haggling is not part of the common culture, at least for me, in the United States. When I was encouraged to haggle here in China, it was really my first experience with hard-line haggling. Sure, “Is this your best price?” has left these lips before and I’ve asked for discounts back home — I’ve even haggled in Europe and Africa — but nothing compares to the art of haggling in China.
In all honesty, haggling in China is elevated to a SPORT! I had been warned by Michael, my guide, about the “sport” of haggling, but for me it was throwing a puff-ball player onto the hard-ball field!
Even with my best poker-face on, I was uncomfortable starting with a price that was about 10 to 20% of the asking price, until Michael assured me it was expected. There are hand gestures that go along with haggling for those of us that don’t speak Chinese.
In this video, Michael shows us the number gestures 1 through 10 in Chinese. The quality of the video is a bit hazy—it was a very hot day with so much smog and humidity my camera lens kept fogging over, but it’s a fun little video on how others nonverbally communicate.
How to haggle in Chinese without saying a word.
Off camera, he went on to explain if it gets much over “ten” the hand gestures continue under a scarf as the merchants don’t want others to know who gets the better deal…. Makes sense, in most negotiations “FAIR” is a range and not usually a set price. Now, I never had to use the hand signals, but they were fun to learn.
7 tips for upping your haggling game.
- Know the current exchange rate before starting your shopping adventure. Round up for easy calculation.
- A poker face is a must. I kept my sunglasses on even inside most shops.
- Do not linger over any item too long, even ones you like. From first-hand experience, two things can happen if you linger… the shopkeeper either picks the item up and keeps showing you that ONE item while constantly repeating the price or they grab numerous other items just like it “but of better quality” (which is always a subjective term) and strongly suggest you need one or all.
- If you are interested in an item and shopping with, say a spouse, do not call him/her over to look at your “find.” The more interested you appear the higher the starting price. Although I did find when your shopping partner is clearly bored or impatient we got quicker service.
- Ask the price. Always let the shopkeeper go first. Respond with a very low number. The shopkeeper will act insulted, wild gestures, up-facing “beggar” palms, pouting expressions…. It’s most often an act. You will know from the intensity, when it’s not!
- Most shopkeepers in the larger cities or tourist areas understand and speak some basic English. Often, whether they speak English or not, they use a calculator to type in the price. They will offer you the calculator to type in your counter-offer. Note: Always clear the last offer from the calculator, once I typed in numbers and realized I just offered her double! Haggling can go back and forth for a long time if you want it too.
- Don’t get flustered. You can say “No” at any time. Shake your head from left to right to say “no” and wave a palm down gesture out away from you and move on. You may be chased for a while, but keep moving.
There are fixed price shops in China, if you (like me) prefer a short, uncomplicated transaction you might want to look for the fixed price stores. They tend to be a bit more ‘touristy’, and in comparison to the bargaining I did the fixed price shops tended to have over-inflated prices. I’ll let you in on a little secret though, I even bargained in the fixed price store…. they were open to negotiation. I didn’t get a lower price but I got the pair of cashmere slippers I was wanting thrown in. So all in all, a good day shopping and oh…those slippers are going to be perfect for the winter nights ahead.
Have a great day whatever your adventures
p.s. Just a couple of days left of my Anniversary Offer of buy one copy of What Your Body Says and get a second copy FREE. Just imagine a FR*EE* copy to give to someone or some place, a school, or library that could really use it.
I’m happy to personalize both copies too if you like at no additional charge to make it a truly special gift!