Haggling in Taiwan
01 Mar 2005
My friend Shelley was in Taiwan at the same time I was but had a very different experience. I’d like to share an excerpt from an e-mail he sent me:
One week was just not enough time in Taiwan and one email is just not enough to explain all I saw and did in that one week. But I’d like to leave off on an account of one experience at a Taipei night market that drove home a significant difference between Taiwan and Mainland China. I was looking for a new belt and came across a vendor with a good selection albeit of Taiwanese name brands. I asked the price of one and she answered “190” NT, about 47.5 RMB or US$6. I had bought my previous belt in China for 25 RMB so I said, “I’ll give you 100.” She snatched the belt out of my hands and said something in Taiwanese that didn’t sound so nice. I replied indignantly, “Ok, I’ll go somewhere else.” She responded again in Taiwanese and I only caught “ah-toka,” which is from the Japanese word for “big nose.” It’s the word Taiwanese use for “foreigner” whereas Mainlanders use “lao wai.”
As we walked away Anita looked at me with a wide-open mouth. “I can’t believe you just did that!” “What? That’s exactly how I would bargain in China. The first price is always at least double what it should be, we bargain, and if she won’t drop the price I start walking away until she yells out a much lower price. What did that lady say anyway?” “Well the first comment was ‘We don’t sell Mainland goods here.’” Hmm, I guess Made In China doesn’t count for much in Taiwan either. “And the second comment was just ‘This crazy foreigner doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’” “Well what should I have done?! This is night market, right? I’m supposed to bargain here, right?” Anita looked at me like I was some backwards yokel. “Ok, look, bargaining here means cutting 20 or 30 NT off a price like that. Cutting her price by half was incredibly insulting. And getting surly with them will never help. You have to chat with them like friends. And Shelley, if you walk away they will never ever beg you to come back. Come on, watch me.”
We went to another booth where a guy was selling name brand belts that even I recognized. For this reason his price start at over 600 NT, or 150 RMB, or about US$19. Then Anita started telling him about how I’m visiting from the Mainland, what I do there, what I’m doing in Taiwan, how much I like Taiwan, where we’ve gone and what we’ve done in Taiwan, and even how I had just screwed up with bargaining with the previous vendor. After about 5 minutes of this the three of us were chatting like old friends. Then he turned to me and said, “Ok, I know you can get things much cheaper in China, but the lowest price I can give you here is 400 NT.” Anita: “Wow, that’s a really good price! Thank you so much!” But for me that was still about 4 times what I could get a decent belt for in China. I prepared for our newfound friendship to be suddenly ruptured as I told him, “I’m sorry. I’d like to look around a bit more first. That price is still too high for me.” But he was as friendly as ever, “Ok, no problem. If you change your mind I’ll be here.” What? He didn’t yell at me, call me cheap or some other name? He didn’t curse me for wasting his time? He seemed to have actually enjoyed chatting with us. As we walked away Anita assured me that that was a huge price drop and overall an excellent price. I expressed my amazement at how different bargaining in Taiwan was from bargaining on the Mainland.
See also: Shelley’s Pictures of Taiwan