Bargaining in Sri Lanka
Bargaining is a natural part of shopping. When a Chinese person tries to buy something in a foreign country, bargaining becomes a necessary skill, especially when buying precious jewels. As a journalist working in Sri Lanka, I found it was a funny thing to bargain with a local jeweler.
In Sri Lanka, you are allowed to bargain at any jewelry store, be it a state- owned store or a privately- owned one. However the ratio of price reduction can be much different. For example, the price tag of a onecarat opal with medium quality may be over 1,000 US dollars at a store in a five- star hotel; and if you walk into a privatelyowned store, you may be asked to pay only several hundred for virtually the same gem. Moreover, the final price is often half the original offer.
In Colombo there is a privately- owned jewelry store named “Kupala” frequented by many Chinese customers. The aged owner recently handed the store down to his son- in- law, whom the Chinese customers nicknamed “Little Boss.”
Little Boss is an artful owner. He has done all he can to attract Chinese buyers. For example, he implies his “close relationship” with the Chinese Embassy by fixing on the wall of his store an enlarged photo of a wellknown leader of China visiting the place. That trick certainly works. Most Chinese buyers are likely to visit his store. If he thinks you are a potential buyer, he will invite you to a small room behind the store and show you gemstones of all types of resplendent colors. Ruby, sapphire, opal, amethyst, topaz, iolite… are all waiting there for your selection.
I once visited the store with a friend. When my friend took a fancy to a ruby, Little Boss asked him for 16,000 rupees ( about 400 US dollars by the time). Our counteroffer was half the price, but the boss would not accept it. After a lot of hard bargaining, we agreed to pay 9,000 rupees, while the boss insisted on a price of 10,000. The transaction price was ultimately a little bit higher than half the asking price.
At the Khan al-Khalili market
in Egypt, there was even more space for price reduction. I heard a story about a Chinese student buying gems at a store there. The owner said hello to him in Japanese, and when the student responded in Japanese without thinking, the boss demanded an exorbitant price from him.
The student asked the owner about the price of an artificial stone, and was told that it would cost him 120 Egyptian pounds ( about 300 Chinese yuan by the time). The lad knew that he was taken as “the rich Japanese guy.” He at once said to the boss in Arabic that he was Chinese.
“Ah! My good old Chinese friend! You deserve the best discount. Only 40 pounds!”
Then the young man informed the owner that as a student of Cairo University he was quite familiar with the market. The foxy man threw up his hands and said, “Well, seems that you can get it with 20 dollars.” 100 dollars off of 120— a rather big reduction, perhaps.
Khan al-Khalili storeowners all look friendly and smile always. But slyness hides behind their warm smiling faces. They are just good at consumer psychology and know how to play the game. However dishonest they actually are, they can make you feel relaxed at their places. And even if you are a fastidious customer, or get pretty mad knowing how they cheated you, their smiles never fade, and then you relent somewhat.
Those experienced owners know the weakness of foreign tourists. They know that the tourists are unfamiliar with the local circumstances, and that people tend to spend more money overseas. When they are sure that you know nothing about the local market, they will ask a price and you have no idea how ridiculous it is. Even for a person who has stayed long enough in Egypt, the transaction price of things can vary. A nine- inch bronze plate carved with the beautiful Nefertiti might be sold to a tourist at 20 US dollars; for me or my friends, the price could be between 5 and 8, or as low as 2 to 3 US dollars if we bought it at a factory.
A similar example involves the Egyptian papyrus painting. I have a friend who had been a high official before he retired from an electric power company in Beijing. We went to university together. One day when I paid him a visit, I saw on the wall of his living room a papyrus painting of a mounted Ramses II on the battlefield.
My friend told me that he bought it at a five- star hotel in Cairo with 100 US dollars. “Surprisingly expensive,” I thought, while he began to boast smugly about what valuable high art the painting represented. At last I decided to tell him that the wholesale price of such paintings would be only 3 to 5 US dollars each, if I were the buyer.
(From ChaozhouDaily , January 7, 2018. Translation: Wang Xiaoke)