Bargain hunting

I’m feeling a bit lost having just returned to the pristine streets of Singapore after a week of haggling and dodging motos in Vietnam.  My well-honed bargaining skills serve no purpose when almost everything comes with a non-negotiable price tag.

Because all the sun and fun has left me with a bout of writer’s block, I thought I would turn this post into a bullet-pointed advice column. A “how to” of haggling everywhere outside of the Lion City.

Some of these points come from my own haggling experience. Others from watching the blunders of pig-headed tourists.

Point one: Find out the exchange rate. Memorise it. This will prevent embarrassing arguments over the price of a bottle of water that might sound pricey at 10,000 Dong but actually costs less than 70c.

Point two: Find out how much you should be paying for a ride on the back of a motorcycle or a bowl of Pho. You can do this by visiting a public park and waiting for a Vietnamese student to come over and ask to practice their English with you. During the exchange, ask them to shed a little light on reasonable prices for essential items, transport, pedicures etc.

Point three: Learn (from people in the park or Youtube) how to say “how much is it” and “that’s too expensive” and how to count from 1 to at least 10 in the native language. “Hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye” also help. Remember you are a guest in the country, and the locals are your hosts, not servants. Courtesies apply.

Point four: Decide on whether or not you really want something and how much you are prepared to pay before you enter negotiations. If you don’t want something, say so. “No thank you”. Walk away. Actually it helps if you know how to say “no, thank you”, too.

Point five: When you do want something, ask the price of it up-front. Unless it is something with a fixed price tag, like a piece of clothing in a shop (not market) or a menu item, it’s likely you will be quoted about 50 per cent above the RRP. However, if you speak the local language, you’ll probably get a fair price. Say the bag of apples is $10, but you only want to pay $5. Try to bring the price down by offering a little less than you are prepared to pay, maybe $4. Meet half-way somewhere closer to the price you are happy with. If the vendor won’t budge, try someone else, as it’s likely there will be a row of eight or so apple vendors. If you find out $10 is actually the going rate, walk away with your tail between your legs.

Point six: Don’t bargain for fun. If the seller comes down to your price, you kind of have to take it. If you don’t, you will insult the vendor and make yourself, and all other tourists, look like greedy idiots.

Point seven: Don’t flash all your cash around. Take small amounts out of your wallet and slip them in your jean or shirt pocket. Use this supply to pay for small ticket items like food, clothes or motorbike rides.

Point eight: Don’t buy expensive things in front of someone you then want to bargain with. My motorbike driver saw me buy a phrase book from a little girl. I paid a bit too much, he saw it, and then hiked up the motorbike fare.

Point nine: The same applies when giving money to beggars when a whole lot of their friends are watching. Be careful, if they get a whiff of all your hundreds of thousands of Dongs, you’ll be mauled.

Point ten: Smile. It’s the universal sign for peace, happiness and “please don’t screw me over”.


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