Of all the unique cultural things one has to get used to in China, I think one of my favorites was haggling, which is not something I would have expected. I try my hardest to avoid confrontation in just about every situation, so arguing with a stranger about something is certainly not something I would have thought I’d enjoy. Though frustrating and oddly tiring at times, haggling over prices was a lot of fun, and I’ve started to wish we had the option of haggling over merchandise in the US as well.
As it turned out, I went to a lot of shopping markets and stalls and watched friends and classmates haggle over gifts and souvenirs, but I left almost all of my gift shopping for the last week of the trip. On Thursday, I went to the Silk Street Market (秀水街), determined to buy gifts for my dad, mom, brother, and sister; eleven friends; two sets of grandparents; five sets of aunts and uncles; and thirteen cousins. And I did, after much arguing and going from shop to shop.
One of the highlights of the day was when I went into a jewelry store to buy some bracelets for my cousins. I have nine girl cousins, so I figured I’d buy ten bracelets and have one extra in case there was anyone I forgot to buy something for. As I was picking out ten bracelets, the vendor in the jewelry shop at the time was trying to earn my favor by complimenting my Chinese: “If I didn’t see you I’d never know you were a foreigner!” and so on. Finally, I settled on the ten I wanted to buy, and gave them to her. After assuring me that she was giving me a fantastic price, because of my speaking Chinese and because she realized I was a poor college student, she typed her starting price into a calculator to show me: 3200 yuan. More than 500 US dollars, for ten bracelets. I laughed and shook my head and the bargaining began. In the end, I managed to get her down to a total of 160 yuan for all ten bracelets: 5 percent of her original price. I walked out of the store feeling pretty proud of myself.
By the end of the day I’d made quite a few successful purchases, and didn’t feel like I’d felt a ridiculous amount of money on anything, so even though I was worn out from all the arguing and quite tired to saying “不可以，不可以，太贵了,” it was a really great day.