Not Really A Bargain

When we used to travel before kids, I loved going to the markets and bargaining for souvenirs.  It was fun to be able to spar with someone over the price of an item, especially if I walked away thinking I was getting a good deal.  Most of the places we were visiting had a very favorable exchange rate when we were running around with US dollars so, let’s be honest here, even if someone was charging me way above market value for something I was still spending very little money.  It wasn’t about my budget anyway; it was about the experience.

Mark was the worst at bargaining.  He didn’t like to haggle with people and he didn’t like to feel as if he was taking advantage.  When someone offered him a handmade item or some local treasure, he couldn’t stand to argue about the worth of the thing.  This used to infuriate me because he would make it that much more difficult for me to convince people to sell me things for cheap.  Traveling in Vietnam, he made friends with some of the local girls who sold all sorts of trinkets.  Once he knew their names there was no way he could bargain with them anymore.  Since I was laid up with a horrible case of food poisoning, he spent an entire afternoon paying full price for everything.  When I recovered enough to be back at the market for our last shopping trip before heading home, there was not a soul who would give me a deal on anything.  “Your husband bought these same things yesterday,” they all told me, “and he paid full price.”  Curse you, Mark!

Here in China things have changed dramatically.  Now that we have been here a little while I have come to dislike bargaining.  It really does lose something when you need to haggle over everything.  I was expecting it in the markets, but I have since learned that in China everything is negotiable.  When we were looking for housing the real estate agent told us that he would negotiate the price and any extra things we wanted.  You ask for the moon and then you settle for a little less.  The same goes for all sorts of other things as well.  When I signed up for my language course, they presented me with the paperwork and it didn’t occur to me to bargain.  When I got home Mark told me that it was expected.  At the language school?!  Yep.  I could have gotten a better deal if I had asked for one.

Mark has become a champion negotiator after his time in China.  When we go to the fakes market, he is all business.  The key, apparently, is walking away.  This works well when he is alone, but if the kids are with us this is less effective.  They haven’t figured out that they should at least pretend not to care.  When they see something that they like they beg and plead.  This does not help negotiations.  You are supposed to start ridiculously low, but the children find this unfair and will frequently side with the seller and help to drive the price up.  When shopping on their own they will often pull out all their money so that the seller can see exactly how much they have to spend.  These things drive Mark crazy but we have begun to use it to our advantage with a sort of good cop/bad cop routine.  While the kids beg for some horrible plastic toy, Mark will walk away, disgusted.  I shrug and defer to him.  Who am I to cross my domineering husband?  Everyone knows Mark wears the pants.  Well, that’s what they think in the market anyway.  Surprisingly, people will chase after us and give us our final price.  Score!  I know you will all be jealous when you find out how little we paid for all our fancy laser pointers and spinning plastic light up tops.  I have a house full of chopstick sets, off brand Nerf guns, and remote control helicopters all purchased at rock bottom prices.  You should all be very jealous indeed.

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