I learned how to bargain in Bali, and it’s serving me well here in Vietnam. It’s a little disconcerting, because you can’t behave as you normally would in a store at home. There’s no casual browsing. The second you step forward to look at anything (or honestly, even just walking within 15 feet of the stall), they’re on you. “Come in, come in- nice things for you!” (or, in Vietnam, repeated cries of : “you buy something!”)
You’re either in it or you’re not. And like that date you might have had in college who you accidentally strung along, you have to avoid getting involved, or just commit.
You might think you’re being polite by chatting with the shop owner who approaches you and engages you in conversation, showing you their best stuff… but you will be in for a nasty surprise when your “thank you, but no” is finally accepted as an ending answer and you are immediately dismissed with a hateful look. So, the lesson here is, look quickly and move on quickly if you’re not interested. Don’t even think about starting to bargain if you have no intention of buying –especially if you linger long enough to hear that starting price. But, do remember that you can bring that price down- sometimes by a lot. In fact, if you’re feeling ballsy, your first counter offer can be less than half the price they quote you. I start a little higher than that because halving their amount feels insulting to me, but it helps to know in advance where you’ve decided to stop and set your limit. If all else fails, saying thank you and walking away can often produce amazing results.
I do always try to smile and be polite no matter what happens in the bargaining process, but I had an interesting experience in Kuta, where I couldn’t help my reaction. I was out walking, heading back to my revolting and overpriced guesthouse in the light drizzle that had finally eased in after a 2-hour downpour. I walked past a stall with umbrellas on display and did no more than glance in their general direction (mostly with regret that I hadn’t gotten a deal on one earlier as I didn’t really need one any longer) without even pausing in my stride, when the hawker in charge pounced and seemingly thoughtfully tried to draw me in with a concerned: “oh, you need umbrella, miss”.
“No, thank you”, I replied.
”No, come in, come in- come see these umbrellas I have for you.”
“No, I’m almost home, thank you.”
<Kindly, and with pity in his voice for the poor, bedraggled foreigner> “No, no, you must have one.”
Curiosity gets the better of me and I stop and ask how much. The response? “For you, <pause… then, dramatic flourish…> 150,000.”
Which is not only more than I paid for the last umbrella I bought at home, it’s also more than my hotel cost that night. In fact, it’s so ridiculously overpriced that I actually involuntarily laughed out loud and then felt no guilt about walking away, tossing a “thank you, no” over my shoulder. Well, his immediate response was a frantic re-grouping and a shout of: “ Wait, 50! Only 50 thousand! What you want to pay?”
And thus we see the magic of walking away. 🙂