December 1, 2009


one of my posts

I had talked about the joys of bargaining, and had said she would never like it...I need to explain this to her'

I buy stuff in two ways. One is…the straightforward way. I look at the price of something, pay it, get the item, and off I go.

But on the other side is the whole wide world of bargaining!

It takes a lifetime here to know what is bargainable,and what is not. (I would never, for example, bargain for 5 kg of rice at the store!) But over a period of time, one…just knows. And then, of course, the pas de deux begins….

The primary assumption, in good bargaining, is that both seller and buyer have a very good idea of the value of the goods being sold. But it's the seller's mettle to get as much as s/he can, and the buyer's challenge to pay less! Frankly, with known dealers and sellers, bargaining is as much a social interaction as a process! Let's go through one sample conversation I have with my cut-flowers seller: "ennammA, Vanitha! hEgthiri neevu?" (how are you?) "chennAgidini ammA...En bEkku?" (I am fine...what do you want?) she asks, knowing perfectly well that I would not have come to the florist's to buy cauliflowers! (Let me shift to English here..can't keep translating!) "What do you have?" I ask, knowing perfectly well that I can see every flower for sale in her tiny shop. "Well, Amma, your favourite pink roses are here," she says with a smile. "Or your husband would like those 'rajanigandhA's...." "Oh...." I drawl,looking at the flowers, noting their condition. Yes, the roses are indeed fresh, and the rajanigandhA (the name means, Scent of the Night, and another name for them is 'Tuberose') are full of the lovely heady scent... "Wo..what outrageous price are you going to quote today?" I fire the first salvo. Vanitha takes this exactly in the spirit in which it is meant. In *real* bargaining, no offence is given or taken! "Amma! When have I ever quoted outrageous prices to you?" she asks with a straight face. "EVERY time!" I say cheerfully. "You want to build yourself a large house with a big garden, and when you see me you start your dreaming!...OK, how much are the roses?" "Ten rupees," she says, as she deftly makes another arrangment-in-a-basket. "Er, you mean, for a dozen?" I ask deliberately. A smile on her lips, she knows I am teasing her. "Amma, don't joke! In which era were roses ten rupees for a dozen?" she asks. "Yes, probably when Hyder Ali was here," I mumble, and select my roses...6 of them will have to do, I guess. The total according to her quote is Rs.60. I know that a fair price for the roses is Rs. 6 or 7 each...but I like Vanitha's shop, and her cheerful countenance...and I have been doing business with her for years. So...I *know* I'll be paying a little more than that. But I won't give up without trying. "The trouble is," I grumble, "all the wealthy ladies have started buying flowers from you and that's spoilt you for ordinary people like me! I *ought* to pay you only Rs. 6 per flower...but why don't you make it Rs.40 as a round sum?" I suggest. Time for the theatrics now. "Oh,oh,oh, oh!" Vanitha exclaims. "Do you want to throw me out of house and home, Amma? I have to feed my poor starving children!" (The aforementioned children arrive rather inopportunely at this moment, muching on milk sweets...they don't seem undernourished to me!) "Then tell me the 'last' price," I say, looking at my watch and feigning being in a rush. "My goodness, your second one has grown quite tall!" "Yes, Amma," beams Vanitha. "I have to get new clothes for him every now and then," she says proudly. She starts wrapping the roses in paper and says, "For you, Amma, I'll make it...Rs.55. I remember your daughter also liking the pink roses, just like you." "Yes, she does like your flowers!" I say. "But that doesn't mean you can fleece me! Tell you what...make it Rs.45." "No, Amma, I can't survive!" she says with mock shock. She calls to the little one not to touch the blooms, and gathers the chubby little child on to her hip. I capitulate at this point; "OK, Rs.48 for 6! Not a paise more!" I say . "Amma, you have a big heart.. round it off to Rs.50!" she says with a smile. I start hunting in my purse for the money, and she adds, "If you don't have it now, Amma, pay me next time you come here. But if you talk to your daughter and that tall hudugA (boy...thus does she refer to my American son-in-law), tell them I enquired!" The offer to carry credit for me really touches me, and I wind up paying the Rs. 50, and I slip a 5-rupee coin into the elder child's hand, telling her, "don't give that to your mother!"...knowing that it is precisely what will happen. "OK... barthini!" (I'll be off!) I say, and she sometimes nods and smiles, as she looks at the next customer. That's the usual, gentle kind of bargaining that happens in our marketplaces...but more serious bargaining is also an art....bargaining and negotiation can happen in the most unlikely of situations, and one must NOT let an opportunity slip! When we went to Egypt, five of us ladies were going out every day in Cairo while the men were busy with conferences and factory visits. We quickly got the measure of the locals, and would hire a cab about a kilometre away from the hotel instead the hotel's own expensive cabs; realized that in a tourist econonmy, we had to bargain like crazy...when the official (male) group PR said that he would fix a Nile cruise with a derveish dancer for X Egyptian pounds, I astounded him by fixing the same thing for...X/5 Egyptian pounds! In Chennai, I started paying for the tender coconuts we are buying regularly, at the rate of Rs.20, I am paying Rs.150 for 12, that's a shade less than Rs.13 each! Regularity of purchase, of course, is another very important factor in the bargaining process, and it is a dumb customer who does not push hes regular purchases to advantage! So....... here, there are situations where bargaining is an enjoyable activity. Of course, there have also been situations where the trader mocks you for trying to bargain...but somehow, in that situation, both buyer and seller are less than what they should be, and the commercial transaction is downgraded to just that, from being a form of social interaction as well. In the course of my bargaining with the jeweller in the last post (he asked for Rs.800, and we settled at Rs.500), I cemented our mutual relationship, and I know that the next time I come to his shop, he will certainly remember me...and ask after the friend I brought last time! </lj-cut> Good bargaining practices are...a form of culture!