Shop Shop, Shoppin' with Momma...
The Ins and Outs of Your Big Nose
Shopping in China is about what you'd expect from any huge outdoor market: lots of vendors vying for your attention, trying to sell you crap. They try especially hard if you look like, say, an american. Being caucasian can put you at a distinct disadvantage in the pricing market. Anyone who has tried bargaining outside the US knows this hardly unusual, but travelling with natives can put an interesting twist on your bargaining position.
You know the drill -- a government tour guide takes you to see the sights, then runs you to a state-run restaurant, then to a state-run store -- where the guide takes a cut whenever you buy a few overpriced items.
As soon as you enter the store, you run the shopping gauntlet. The goods are laid out in tables everywhere. A clerk (usually two) walks up and says "Hello-can-I-help-you?" If you make eye contact, they try to take things a step further by saying "What you like? I give you good price."
It's usually a fatal mistake to make eye contact with a clerk after touching an item -- any item. The second you pick up an object, be it an embroidered silk screen or a smoldering cigarette butt, a clerk latches onto you and says, "You like? 280!"
Brian, the only round-eye in the store, was immediately claimed by a lady clerk. She tried very hard to interest him in assorted carvings, particularly some soapstone rats (by the chinese zodiac we're both rats.) "280!" she insisted, pointing at the carvings, which were probably made by prison convicts using sharpened popsicle sticks. He cleverly deflected her by insisting all the rats were too skinny and that he required a properly plump rat. She responded with compliments.
The woman's enthusiasm took a few big steps backwards. She looked over at my parents (who were at that time handily disintegrating another clerk's asking price about 20-fold).
Her enthusiasm took a running leap off a cliff.
"Okay," she sighed, "I give you chinese price."