“Hey Mistah, for you Mistah,” And so it begins . . . you’ve just begun your journey into the Asian retail shopping experience known as a night market. Your fault. You’re American and so are obviously rich, and you’re the one that walked by her booth and stupidly let your eye wander over the goods she has for sale. So now it’s time to make a sale: “Special price for you Mistah!”
Mmm, really?” you think. “How much?”
“For you Mistah, special price. Only 5,000 baht!”
First you think 5,000 baht is a lot of money for a fake Rolex, but then remember that that works out to something like $2 American (yep, few too many beers and that currency conversion goes haywire: 5,000 baht is more like $160). Barter master that you are you quickly respond with, “I’ll give you 3,000)
Oh, No! The world is ending! A painful grimace spreads across her face, “Oh, no Mistah, can not! You give me more!”
OK, so the low ball price didn’t work, “3,500,” you tell her proud that you only went up by 500 baht instead of 1,000. No deal, the grimace is still there and . . . is that? Yes, even a small tear forming in the corner of her eye.
“Mistah”, she plaintively wails, “Need more. You give me 4,000.”
Ahhh, got her on the ropes, you think and offer 3,800 back. She doesn’t look convinced, so you decide to try a trick you’d been told about and turn to walk away. Sure enough, it works! Her hand snakes out through the crowd and grasps your elbow pulling you back. “OK, Mistah, you give me 3,900. Just one more Mistah!”
Time to be firm: 3,800 is it and not a penny more. The deal is struck, she bags up your new watch, takes the 5,000 baht note you hand her and as she’s counting out your change sweetly smiles, looks up to you and says, “You give me tip, Mistah?” Sucker. But hey, you just got a cool looking Rolex watch for a mere $125!
She’s happy, you’re happy. Until you’re walking down another aisle and overhear another American bargaining for the same watch for 1,200 baht.
Don’t be upset, both of your watches will only work for the next two days anyway. And wasn’t bartering for you purchase fun?
So how can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Ha! It will no matter what. But here are few tips:
1. The more tourists in the area, the higher the price will be.
2. A third of the asking price is probably fair in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, a fourth in Bali, and you’ll be lucky to get it for half the price in Hong Kong.
3. Bartering in Thailand is suppose to be fun, enjoy it. Bartering in Hong Kong is serious business. I introduced my friend Ann to bartering in Bangkok and she had great fun offering 500 baht back to a 5,000 baht asking price. Tried the same thing at the Temple Street Market in Kowloon and the vendor responded with an angry “Fuck You!” And he had been acting like he didn’t speak English. Bartering in Bali? You’re gonna get ripped off no matter what you do so stay low and walk away quickly . . . you might get lucky and escape without making a purchase.
4. Keep in mind that everything is fake and cheap so you are not bartering for a Calvin Klien shirt, you are bartering for a knock off that will not survive the first washing.
5. Do not think you will win. You are a stupid American. My friend Karen wasted 15 minutes of our time bartering over a jar of tiger balm at a floating market in Thailand and we found it at the drug store by the hotel later that day for half what she paid. And she was haggling hard!.
6. You may be a stupid American, but you are also a rich one. Really. Keep in mind the 25 baht you are disagreeing over is only eighty cents and that eighty cents is much more important to the vendor than to you. Same trip, same floating market, we’d found an old woman who was going to row four of us through the canals for half a day and while three of us sat in her boat ready to go, Tiger Balm Karen stood on the bank haggling over 100 baht ($3.00). Shameful. Specially when later the old lady took us to her home (shack) for refreshments because we were so nice.
7. Don’t start the bartering process if you do not intend to buy, and if you agree to a price, make the purchase. This won’t save you a dime, but I hate to see Americans ruining our rep (any further) by being rude.
Oh, and as for that genuine fake Rolex, what should it have cost? Well, on a trip to Hong Kong with my friend Dave several years ago, he got one for $HK 600 ($80). I’ve bought them in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok for 800 baht. ($25) Bought one in Kuala Lumpur last year for 60 ringget ($18). And traded a $6 plastic watch I’d bought at Walmart for one in Bali. What’d you pay?