Tai Gui Le

3 Sep

It’s one of the first sentences Chinese people will teach you – ‘It’s too expensive’ – a vital expression in a bargaining culture. I’ve heard of another, cuter version ‘Jiejie, Pianyi yidian’r’ – ‘big sister, cheaper a bit’.

I went to a market with Kenyen last Sunday, and thought I would bargain some porcelain cups. I picked up a cute one – slightly tall – ‘Duibuqi, duoshao qian?’ – ’50 kuai’, the seller says. ‘Ooh, tai gui le.’ I smile. Apathy from the seller. ’15 kuai’, I try. Head shaking. It’s a cute cup, but nothing exceptional. ’18 kuai?’ He’s closed his eyes, he’s not looking at me. I leave, annoyed.

Later, in another part of the market, I see a boy sitting on the floor with the same cup  in front of him. I try again ‘Duoshao qian?’ ‘Wu ..ai,’ he answers. Five kuai?  reasonable! ‘Wu kuai?’, I repeat, confirming the price before handing out a bill. The boy smiles, shaking his head slightly ‘Wu ..ai.’ ‘Wu kuai?’ I try again, sensing communication failure. The boy, pragmatically, takes out his calculator, and types ‘500’. ‘Wu bai‘, five hundred! I smile, and leave.

I thought they would be good sellers at that market – they were even selling stones at certain stalls! But apparently, the people were prey to some weird laziness. Bargaining was too much effort for them. Better just rip off one tourist, than try selling cups to the tough ones. They can go somewhere else if they really want a cup, or pay the price we say.

I read about Beijingers that they’ve got a certain relaxed attitude to life, whereby they’d rather take the time to laugh and enjoy their than run after money, like southerners do. Superficially, that sounds for a pleasant ethos. In practice, for the visitor it’s annoying as. But then, if tourists are going to buy for five hundred, why bother? Basic rule of luxury sales: the higher the price, the more desirable the goods.

I felt I was back in Paris.

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6 Responses to “Tai Gui Le”

  1. Adeline Teoh (@witmol) September 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    My friend who lives in Beijing taught me a trick, which is to act like you’ve bargained with them before or you know someone who has. Find out what a good price is and say: “Do you have any more of those 15 kuai cups?”

    She’s saved so much time buying jeans, pearl earrings, knitting supplies… Of course it helps if you speak Mandarin fairly well.

    • julienleyre September 5, 2011 at 2:14 am #

      Thanks for the tip! Next trip, I’ll use it.
      Pretence seems to work well. I had this tip from another friend, to avoid problems at Beijing airport. A friend of a friend of a friend, called ‘Gao Yu’, works there. She’s never met him. Whenever she’s got a few kilos extra, or is a bit late, or would like to be upgraded :’how is Gao Yu? He’s not here today?’ Guess what – it works!

  2. Vivien Chang September 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Shame on the boy…but market selling is usually a one off business.Because the booth sellers can tell if a customer is a local or not by the accent or appearance, and they know local buyers know how much a tea cup worth in this area. Tourists and visitors become their big fish. Fortunately,you can buy almost everything at most supermarket or department store with price tags on the commodity, the quality is usually okay.It is interesting to see how people market their tea cup at the market, 500 kuai?Must be at least from qing Dynasty :))

  3. Dee March 5, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Why did you use “duìbuqǐ” as an opener for “excuse me”? I’ve been taught that the correct phrase to use would be “qǐng wèn”

    • julienleyre March 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

      I guess it’s a language mistake on my part :-). It worked though, or didn’t. Thanks for the tip!

      • Dee March 5, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

        No worries. I was more making sure I wasn’t missing a bargaining intricacy.

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