Eileen Reagan, from Brooklyn,
New York has had the wonderful opportunity of actually living in
Beijing for an extended period of time. That meant she has had to
learn the ground rules for shopping in a country that has elevated
the act of bargaining to an absolute art. Eileen writes...
the better part of the last two years in Beijing, a city that is
changing by the moment. Last week I came home in the evening walking
past a half mile of tin-shelter shops, markets and businesses. This
morning, I went there for eggs and the entire area was leveled.
These quick transitions give new meaning to the adage, if
you see something you like, buy it now. However in China,
it should be buy it right now but bargain a lot first.
Shopping in Beijing and most
of China is great fun if you are prepared to bargain and haggle
for everything, even in some of the local department stores. Forget
the international shops, their prices are fixed and they are only
for the really, really rich.
your numbers in Chinese...
begin, even though a fair amount of English is spoken in the
big cities, not knowing the Chinese words for numbers and
prices will cost you a lot of extra money. Before you leave
home, learn your numbers in Chinese. When I go to the market,
I try to listen carefully to the vendors first price.
Then I counter with, Too expensive for me. Then
the seller will say something like "You say" which
means...make me an offer. I, then, compliment the article
again, say it is much too expensive and begin walking away.
The Chinese bargaining system has now begun.
a foreigner never, ever offer more than 25% of the originally
stated amount. Don't be afraid to insult anyone, Chinese merchants
expect you to bargain but they don't think that you know how
much you can reduce the price. (They have no idea that you
are a savvy Journeywoman) Let them make the next move.
Expect to be quoted at
least three or four times the amount that a Chinese person
would be told, but never, ever end up actually paying more
than half. If the seller won't bargain then try another stall.
Many of the markets have venders selling the exact material
for totally different amounts. In the final analysis, feeling
satisfied that the price suits you is all that matters.
For example, I was quite
happy to bring the "first" price of 195Y(Chinese
dollars) down to 55Y and buy myself a very pretty watch. Then
my neighbor came over with the same watch that she had bought
for 20Y. However, I didnt fret because I paid only 200Y
for my North Face jacket, while my roommate paid 375Y for
hers. Thats what makes shopping fun.
P.S. from Jane L. in
Beijing: Feel free to bring some U.S. $1's or $5's as a way
to get a lower price when shopping in markets. If you've bargained
hard and still can't get what you want, offer the $5.00 bill
and then walk away holding the money. Merchants will generally
call after you to come back. They will want the hard currency.
Happy bargaining, ladies!
Beijing, stores are open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 and
sometimes 7:00 pm. Markets tend to open the same time but
have more flexible closing hours.
- Need more cash? Banks
in China are open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Saturday.
They close from noon to 2:00 pm for lunch
- In department stores
where you are able to use a credit card, be sure to put
the local currency sign (yuen) before the total credit card
amount so it wont be mistaken for dollars.
- Pack a pocket battery
calculator which should come in handy when
bargaining. For faster approximate calculations make up
your own mini
card with current exchange rates. i.e. One U.S. $ = ? yuen
Ten U.S. $ = ? yuen
- Keep your valuables
well protected. Expect hoards of people to share sidewalk
space with you -- under these conditions, a fanny pack is
a perfect invitation to pickpockets.
in any large city one must watch their valuables and never
display large amounts of money openly. Use a neck-style
or other secure bag for passports and excess money. Then,
just carry a small amount of money in a concealed change
purse. This way you lessen the risk of being the victim
of pickpockets or "snatchers" prevalent in the Beijing streetmarkets,
and (very important)... the vendor doesn't see a lot of
money which helps your bargaining power even more.
(From Journeywoman files,Dr. Jane Liedtke, and The Treasures
and Pleasures of China, Impact Guides.)