Learning how to Bargain

Since coming here to Thailand I’ve picked up many new skills that help me survive here in the city.  For example, I can now jaywalk like a pro.  The key is to just be confident; if the oncoming traffic sees that you are set in your ways, they will slow down and let you pass.  Well, most of the time. In the case of an exceptionally busy street or intersection, it’s probably a better idea to jaywalk in pairs.

Anyways, another trick I’ve added to my repertoire (of tricks) is bargaining with merchants in the local markets.  It’s pretty much essential if you’re broke like me, because the shop owners set their prices based on how much money they think you have.  If a foreigner like me asks for the price of let’s say, a dark blue vintage Smurf’s t-shirt that I could wear ironically back in the States, the owner of the shop would pause for a second and then give me a price roughly triple what it would be sold to a local for. The pause is supposed to seem like he is trying to think of how to say the numbers in English, but in reality he is checking out my face and clothing to see where I am from.

I mention the dark blue vintage Smurf’s t-shirt that I could wear ironically back in the States because I did actually try to buy one of these the other day.  When I asked the guy for a price, he told me 150 Baht.  He saw my UNC shirt, the paleness of my skin and my enormous height and realized I was from the US.  Since most of the Americans visiting Thailand are on vacation, they have extra money to spend or are too lazy to bargain for a good price.

But I was in no mood to play around with this fellow.  This t-shirt depicting Papa Smurf giving an encouraging smile and a thumbs up was too good to pass up just because of it’s steep price.  I put on my game face and got ready for some hardcore bargaining.

Well I don’t want to bore any of you with the details of our little engagement, so I’ll just skip to the part where I finally bought the shirt for 100 Baht.  I was fairly happy about this purchase, but my excitement was short lived (a different guy was selling the exact same shirt like 3 stalls over…but that’s beside the point).  I befriended a local a couple weeks back name Chris.  I brought up my encounter with the shop keeper, and he told me that there is no way anyone from around Thailand would buy a shirt from the market I was at for more than 60 Baht.

By the way, in case anyone was wondering the difference between 150 Baht and 100 Baht is about the same as the difference between $4.50 and $3.00.  When it comes to bargaining (at least for me), it’s not only about the amount of money you actually save, but also about the fact that you’re getting ripped off just because of your background.

Anyhow, the bottom line is if you’re not from around here, you’re not going to get the lowest price at the day markets no matter how hard you bargain (I have a sneaking suspicion that all the shop owners agreed with each other not to go below a certain price for foreigners…some of the offers I got at different stalls for the same item were a little too similar).  However, bargaining will save you money in the long run and also help alleviate the stereotype around here that all Americans are very free with their money-spending.

-Matt

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4 Responses to Learning how to Bargain

  1. Thomas Erickson says:

    That’s awesome that you’re learning that! It’s the exact same way in India. I’ve learned that it’s sometimes better to name your price before they do… purely a test of wit.

  2. Matt Hill says:

    That’s not a bad idea Tom, I’ll try that out next time I’m shopping. Hope your having a good time in Jaipur!

  3. Vanessa says:

    My chinese isn’t bad, but I have a vague accent that’s strong enough that my mom won’t let me talk if we’re shopping. 😄 I have to whisper in her ear or nod/shake my head. It’s kind of funny, because I once made the mistake of talking in not only bad chinese, but English, and the price got jacked up incredibly high.

  4. Jane says:

    Thanks for the bargaining tips! I am going to Turkey in July and I keep reading about the local vendors and how bargaining with them is expected. As an American it can be a hard concept to wrap your head around. For your sake I hope I don’t find a cheaper Smurf shirt! : )

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