24. Bargaining

Every minute of every hour, in the public markets of the world, people are bargaining over the price of goods. Backpackers, most of whom are financially scraping along their trips, must brave these markets to get the best deals possible and make what little cash they have last. Since bargaining is a battle of wits, weak-willed backpackers from developed nations are traditionally terrible at it.

bartering

Conversely, third-world vendors excel at bargaining. In order to win an argument over price, one must have a hustler’s mentality, a comic disregard for social niceties (almost to the point of a mean streak) and an interminable amount of patience. You need balls and time. Poor people have plenty of both.

Many backpackers will beenou about how good of bargainers they are. They’ll claim that bargaining is a simple process of a) asking the price of an item, b) lowballing and getting denied, c) faking a departure and d) getting the price you want or meeting somewhere in between. If it were so easy, nobody would ever complain about bargaining — they’d just follow the four-step path to public market dominance. It is difficult.

The reason it is so difficult is because bargaining is often a dispute between a poor vendor and a rich traveler. As previously mentioned, poor people have balls and time. People from wealthy, “civilized,” fast-food countries are too nice to get into fights and too impatient to wait on anything. In then end, the poor saps need the extra 10 cents to survive. We don’t.

A vast majority of travelers will give up on the last 10 cents. People say, “It’s not worth the hassle. They need it more than I do, anyways.” These are unsuccessful bargainers. The good ones will not give up. It’s the principle that eats at them. They’ll stoop to the vendor’s level and haggle it out to the bitter end.

Backpackers, on the other hand, have trains to catch and sights to see. And besides, meeting somewhere in between is easier on the conscience. See #3, below.

The following is a list of common barganing catch phrases and strategies salespeople will try to use on unassuming foreigners:

  1. “I give you good price!”: Of course they will. This is capitalism in its rawest form. Their profits depend on giving you a bad price.
  2. “Same same”: This has become somewhat of an institution in Thai tourism, so much so that some cheesy motherfucker had the gall to put it on a t-shirt, with “but different” on the back. Vendors will use this line to reassure a customer that their product is identical to every other vendor’s in the market. A quick rebuttal to the fake departure/threat to buy elsewhere.
  3. Classic guilt trip: Vendors will often employ a variety of sad or desperate facial expressions to dissuade you from further reducing the price.
  4. “No deal”: Vendors may quickly halt negotiations with a simple no. Some even shoo you away or encourage you to buy elsewhere. These are all tactics to pressure you into buying at the last price. Just like your fake departure, their no actually means yes.
  5. Post-deal anger: Many vendors will pretend to still be frustrated after you’ve paid and are walking away. Rest assured that they are laughing inside. 
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4 Responses to “24. Bargaining”

  1. mike says:

    Not to mention girls are way better at it than dudes. They can flirt with the male vendors and if they’re halfway hot, get away with it. Nothing poor brown guys like more than blonde white chicks making a pouty face.

  2. Poon says:

    This is true. Women also have the “bitchy” advantage. Guys are less convincing as jerk negotiators.

  3. J. says:

    Great blog, great post.

    Not to quibble, but I’m almost positive that “same-same but different” started in Cambodia, ca. mid-1990s… Thus, an amusing instance in which Thailand has pirated something from Cambodia.

  4. nel says:

    I love this blog. You realize how true stereotypes are 🙂
    By the way i’m waiting for the “rich people pretending to be poor” entry!!

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