Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Too Expensive...?

After the events of the past week, I have regretfully scratched “Balinese import/export tycoon” off my list of future careers.

Wandering through a stone-carving village in central Bali, watching all the artisans at work, we couldn’t resist picking up a couple of pieces - and then we realized they were so heavy we couldn’t pick them up. So much for putting them in our luggage! So we decided on cargo shipping (as in, on an actual ship). The distance is, after all, maybe 1 percent of the distance from Indonesia to the US, so we figured it would be relatively cheap.

Unfortunately, what I never calculated for was the haggling - or rather, the multiple hagglings, at each stage in our multinational transaction. First we negotiated for the carvings themselves. (In retrospect, that was the easy part.) Then we bargained over getting the carvings into a crate, then port-to-port freight, then getting the crate off the boat into a warehouse, then customs clearance, then home delivery and unpacking. That last one was the most painful - but we should’ve known that any mover in his right mind would jack up the price once he found out he’d essentially be hauling 400 pounds of rocks!

It was a pretty reasonable process, actually. But the hitch was - I might as well admit it - I am an abysmal haggler. Case in point: toward the end of our Bali trip, I was so tired (or maybe so relaxed) that I somehow managed to bargain the price up. (You try crunching numbers while vacationing in a soothing tropical paradise, and see how you fare!) It was so hard for me to be on my guard with the Balinese, who are kind and sweet and easy-going and completely readjust the numbers - turning a whole transaction on its head - without even blinking.

“One for 50,000 Rp,” said one gently smiling, elderly shopkeeper. “Buy more than one, and I give you better price!” So I offered two for 80,000 Rp total - not a very ambitious bargain, but a slight discount. “Oh, no,” she said, with a show of horror. “I lose money, then! I give you two at 70,000 Rp each. Good price for you.” No, no, I said, feeling that at last I was getting into the swing of things. 60,000 Rp each is my final offer. “Okay,” she said, “you happy, I’m happy,” and we were done.

It was only later, when I found myself forking over 120,000 Rp, that I realized she’d redirected the whole negotiation from “total” price to the price for “each.” So now, instead of one for 50,000 Rp, I was paying 60,000 Rp apiece.

My admirably patient Chinese tutor has been trying to break me of this unfortunate tendency. Just by looking at me, she could tell I was probably overpaying for every vegetable at the Chinese wet market. She was sure that, with the right phrases, she could teach me to haggle doggedly down to rock-bottom prices. So some of the first new Chinese I learned from her was, “Tai gui le!” (Pronounced Thai, gway, luh, it means, “Too expensive!”) And in the name of doing my homework, I have tried it a few times. So far, I’ve gotten it to work almost as effectively as when I say it in English. On the upside, now I can haggle badly in two languages. That’s progress!


ozlady said...

ha ha ha ah

this one had me in stitches!!!

You both post really kewl and accurate stories... funny!

Cheryl said...

LOL! hilarious! can't wait to share this one with my family!

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