Most expats, from what I’ve seen, think of haggling as a game. As long as the players abide by the rules and try not to let the negotiations descend into abject ugliness, it can be a lot of fun.
Or so I’ve heard. For me, haggling is torture.
I know that effective haggling — the kind that ends with both sides claiming victory — is an art. Here’s the thing, though: while I admire haggle artists and am properly appreciative of what they do, I’m definitely not one of them. Frankly, I just don’t have the right stuff. (Nerves of steel? Overcooked pasta, more like. Shopkeepers all across Asia would rub their hands together in glee when they saw me coming.)
My husband, however, is a Master of the Haggle. Watching him barter in a dusty marketplace was like watching Nureyev at his peak. The intricate dance of commerce between buyer and seller was spellbinding, made even more so by the contrast between Chef Boyardee’s inner determination and his outward show of jocularity.
When she was little, Elder Daughter used to do a hilarious impression of Chef Boyardee haggling. She would glance at an item with a bored expression, finger it idly for a moment, then throw out an indifferent “how much?” When she heard the price, she would laugh and say, conspiratorially, “Tourist price! Come on, seriously, how much?” Then, playing both parts, she would quote a high price and a low price, ping-ponging between the two until she arrived at a number somewhere in the middle.
Sometimes, for variety, she would regretfully sigh “Too much!” and walk away, but she always allowed herself to be called back to complete the deal. She even managed to perfectly nail her father’s discreet look of triumph. I was so impressed, I seriously considered sending her out to do all our shopping.
Her impression of Mommy haggling wasn’t so kind:
Me: How much?
Vendor: 750 baht.
Me: Are you sure that’s enough? Here, take another 100 baht. Ah, what the hell — make it 200.
What can I say? I know the rules; I just don’t have it in me to quibble over a couple of bucks. When it comes to haggling, I guess I’d rather be a spectator than a player.
What about you? Haggler? Sucker? Leave your comments below.