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.