Travel and Culture

Deal or No Deal

Anyone who has been to Southeast Asia (or anywhere outside the United States and Europe) knows that the price you are given by a vendor is not the price you are going to pay.  That is because we Westerners are an easy mark, perceived as a walking ATM machine that doesn't know any better than to pay what they ask.  I've become a spendthrift since I arrived here, becoming agitated when I find a restaurant down the block that serves rice for a dollar or two cheaper than the one I just patronized.  When the proverbial spigot is turned off, you become acutely sensitive to the thickness of your wallet.  All this is a way of saying I try to bargain as often and as hard as I can.   I now have experience negotiating with people in three countries, all of which have a different profile.  But first, the rules. You are not supposed to enter into a negotiation unless you have the intention of buying something, as it is considered bad etiquette.  Only start the bargaining process if you actually have some interest in buying the product.  I learned this the hard way in Vietnam, where I got some dagger-esque stares after walking away from a potential Brazilian football (soccer) jersey deal.  Also, remember the context of the situation.  You are representing your country, and probably make more in a day than the people you are bargaining with make in a month.  I am the exception, of course, since I have a steady income of $0.00 per month.  Still, while it is fine to bargain, it's not always important to get the product for just over cost.  You don't want to rake them over the coals and, in the process, reinforce a stereotype about your country being cheap.  Remember to smile and keep it reasonably lighthearted.  You will probably get a better deal that way anyways.  I started to read about Rational Choice Theory, Pareto optimality, and Nash bargaining solutions in preparation for this section of the article, but the opportunity cost of teaching myself game theory is too high.  As much as I'd like to learn about the mathematical theories behind bargaining, it's going to have to take it's place at the back of the line.  Now to the differences. (more…)