As you might know I will be back in China in September. Yesterday I met some of the other (law) students going to Shanghai too and as usual at some point you talk about the typical tourist traps.
Because I lived in China for 8 month I just said “If you know the prices and where to go, they won’t screw you over!”
They looked at me quite shocked, how dare I generalize and insult a whole nation!? (typical law students – always taking everything too serious xD the organizer of the meeting even said, that is the same as if somebody calls all Germans Nazis, way to go over the top xD )
I guess for people who never lived in China it really sounds like an insult, but it actually wasn’t meant as one and the explanation is found in the different mentalities.
Let me try to explain why being a trickster can actually be a compliment and why you shouldn’t be angry at being screwed over. Instead you should see it more as a challenge aaaaaand in the end I have some of my all time favorite haggling tips.
So let’s start with the cultural differences. If you want to know more about Chinese Cultural differences there is a great book, it just couldn’t be more on point. The author is Chinese herself and married with a German, so she should know =) Sadly the book is just in German and I couldn’t find an english counterpart, if I find one I will let you know.
If you still are interested in checking it out, this link will bring you there.
China Knigge- Eine Gebrauchsanweisung für das Reich der Mitte, written by Yu Chien Kuan (*this is an affiliate link)
I do have the book myself and there is this one story that just stayed in my memory,the differences in how to handle a business.
Let me tell you the story: Imagine it rains. A Chinese and a German want to take advantage of that and built a business. The Chinese simply goes into the next shop buys 20 umbrellas for 5 Dollar and sells them for 10 on the street, while it still rains.
The German makes a businessplan, rents a place, buys 200 umbrellas at 3.50 and starts his business, but the rain already stopped, and he is not able to sell them all, but enough to keep on going.
Do you see the difference? While Germans are planners, which makes them so reliable and accurate, the Chinese is more likely to grab the chance while it is there.
He is actually the born business men, there is a reason why China is an uprising world power.
They use the now and make the best profit for themselves. (Not saying all of them do it this way, but as there are “typical” german traits, this is one of these “typical” chinese traits I think.
What does this mean for a foreigner in China? Well easy, because you have no way to know how things roll, you are the perfect possibility for them to make money. They don’t mean it in a sly way, they simply use what you give them.
But when you catch the person, when he/she tries to rip you off, they are usually not mad at you, they more likely applaud you noticing that they tried to “screw you over” (as I am not allowed to say that anymore, I just quote it 😉 )
F.e. in Beijing all the restaurants have chinese and english menus. The English menus have much higher prices. My parents and I went to a HotPot restaurant and I was already really suspicious about the prices, so I got myself the chinese menu…
I had to “steal”it from another table and got my dictionary out, did the math and noticed that we just had to pay 1/3!!! of the price they originally asked from us. I showed the restaurant owner the price from the chinese menu and made clear that I wouldn’t pay more just because I am a Laowei (foreigner) and that I am familiar with how high the prices should be.
The owner first disagreed, but I didn’t give in. You maybe think, why would I make things so complicated and not just pay the price he asked for.
But do you know what happened next?!
The owner smiled at my parents, gave them a thumbs up and said they should be proud at me. We left with a smile and I was actually proud of me, he tried to his trick and I outsmarted him. He still made his profit and I made mine. Win/Win.
There is no reason why you should pay more than the locals. It is up to you if you let them trick you.
This I actually heard from a Chinese taxi driver when I refused to drive with him if he wouldn’t be using the taximeter :
“You are smart. Most Laowei are not, they make earning money easy.”
—> We are making it easy for them, so why shouldn’t they use the opportunity???
There are actually restaurants in Beijing which don’t want to serve you if you want to Chinese menu, just because you are a foreigner and why not, they have enough people not knowing that there are different prices and who are to lazy to haggle, so they don’t need to make business with you, a potentially better paying tourist could come in and they are wasting a table on you.
They all know how to make the most out of an opportunity. In the end it is up to you, to learn to play their game (which can be exhausting I know) or to get ripped off.
There are always a couple of individuals who are the exception. I am always delighted when the taxi driver turns on the meter, without me having to tell him. But I already had some refusing to, so I got out of the car and took the bus, you should have seen their faces 😉 btw. don’t think you can take the next one, because they stick together.
It’s all about the connections and the community. There are 5 taxis, they will all tell you the same ridiculous high price…you have to be lucky to find one who is willing to take you for the regular price or you have to walk a bit away from them (not that this always helps, sometimes they will follow you around and scare other drivers away and just go lower and lower with their price, but still won’t turn on the meter)
Like I said, they know how to do business. Try to haggle the price down till you like it our just tell them to go, might have to do that a couple of times. They don’t like losing a potential customer 😉 but who does? =)
I am not sure if you are familiar with the Chinese Horoscope. There is the year of the monkey. The monkey is also called the trickster, he is said to be very clever and is outsmarting everybody else, because he simply knows which buttons he has to push. The sign for monkey is by the way pronounced the same then the sign for high official (Check here for a good site if you want to know your zodiac sign).
To be good in business you have to try to be like the monkey, smart and charming, there is a reason that the year of the monkey is supposedly a great time to start a business and to earn money.
It is all a game to test who is the smartest and your opponent will press every button, which is why you should know how to play the game and not to take it too serious as there is no evil indent, it is just how the things roll.
To make live easier for you here are some of my haggling tricks.
- In tourist areas you will be told at least twice the price, they will tell a local person. Take that in account and start very low. If they tell you f.e.800 for a coat means the local starts at 400 with the haggling. Don’t feel bad to tell them 200 or even lower. You will meet somewhere in the middle. If you go very low, they usually either turn away and come running behind you later with a better price or drop the price straight away, if they don’t, leave and try with the next salesman…
- Going away and saying “to expensive”, works 8 times out of 10…they will usually stop you and tell you a better price.
- Check the quality, use everything you can find, the locals do too, no need to feel bad about it.
- Talk to some locals before going shopping to get an idea about the prices, yes I already bought a beautiful coat on summer sale for 5 dollar, my winter coat I got for 30, but it is the warmest and most cozy I am owning.
- Learn some chinese phrases, you won’t believe how fast they drop the prices if you know chinese and if you tell them you live in china, even if you’re not 😉
- Take a chinese friend with you, whom you trust…not a stranger from the street, there are many tourist fisher out there, paid to bring you to expensive shops
- Always smile, sometimes (especially woman) will say things like : ohh you are cold hearted and make faces like they are short before crying and start whining… no worries, it’s all part of the game.
- Nothing where you have to haggle for is from a real brand, brands are sold in expensive malls, same as in every other country of the world ( because for some reasons some tourist still believe the sellers)
- Find out where the locals go shopping, don’t go to the tourist places…
- Earn their respect…there was this local food stand in Qufu…the first month I just got 3 meat sticks for 10 rmb. After a month he suddenly gave me four, like the other locals. He accepted me as a costumer and not as a foreigner anymore. I went there every weekend for 8 month, just to his stand, that’s how he got himself a loyal customer.
- Enjoy the game, you never have to buy anything if you don’t like the price, there are tons of other people selling the same stuff, try the next one. This takes out the pressure and the more fun you are having, the more fun the salesman is having and the more likely you are to get a good deal.
- Don’t be rude, you don’t want the other person to lose face, smile but stay firm and always stay polite, otherwise you won’t be able to make a good deal.
- The perfect sale is if both of you are happy. If you are not, don’t buy it, just say you will have to think about it, don’t be pressured, they might be annoyed because the lost time with you, but in the end it is your money…
That is all I can think of right now.
I hope you are able to understand now that if I say they will screw you over it isn’t meant as an insult. It is a way to survive and make the best out of the possibilities given to them.They have to take care for themselves and their families,the state won’t really support them, if things don’t work out.
(Earning good money is very important for them, usually the second question after “Hi how are you?” is “How much do you earn?”)
Being smart and using every possibility is how they make the best out of their situations. This is not meant as an insult or generalisation!
Let’s be honest we all have certain expectations about other cultures. The germans are horribly efficient, americans are very outgoing, japanese are famous for their manners, italians for their charm and the list goes on and on.
Mostly these are not so far away from the truth, simply because different cultures teach you different mentalities.
For the Chinese it means they are the perfect business people and who wants to disagree with that?
By the way, while they are really tricky sometimes when it comes to money, they are very helpful and nice whenever you are lost.
I had strangers offering me help, to buy my train ticket when the seller didn’t speak English and whenever I was lost they helped me out with the directions, even if they didn’t speak a single word english.
Anf once they accepted you as a proper customer, they won’t try to trick you anymore and when you stay longer in china, let me tell you, they really know what good customer service is.
Also if you are not at a touristy spot, besides the normal haggling they will most likely treat you like a normal customer.
The conclusion is: I will still tell you that they screw tourist over, because they do, especially when you are in a touristy spot! No not all Chinese will, but they simply have another approach to do business. For them it doesn’t mean the same as for you. They love to make a good deal and heck if you are falling for it, why should they feel bad?!
Not saying it is a good thing, nor am I saying it is a bad thing. Things just work different…and you should be prepared for that 😉
* This post contains one affiliate link, if you click on it and buy anything I will earn a small commission. I am legally required to point this out and I want you to understand that I am just advertising things here I use myself and honestly like.