Haggling In Korea

Haggling is not the American way, but you can’t travel overseas without finding that haggling is the preferred way of doing business. Haggling is mostly thrust and counter thrust.

Experience is a requisite. I learned my first valuable lesson, in the holy city of Jerusalem. A veteran traveler advised me to offer half the price shown on the tag. I did, and the clerk turned on his heels, crossed to the other side of the room, and never again looked in my direction!.

The item I wanted, desperately, was an oval shaped carving of the Last  Supper.  My obvious desire for it apparently showed, and it blunted my technique. The clerk found my offer offensive.

I tried haggling again, in South Korea. This time I was carefully coached by an American who was living there, as a member of the International Executive Service Corps. She taught me the subtle arts of approaching clerks, how to be curious, yet to show a kindly dismay if the price seemed more than my wallet could bear.

One afternoon, after living in Inchon, Korea for a few months, I tried shopping on my own. It was early afternoon and many stores were closed,  for an hour of rest. I particularly noticed a shop almost completely covered with giant Dollar ($$$) and Percentage signs. (%%%) . Remembering that numbers are the same the world over. I was sure the signs meant , “50% off.”

Peering through the darkened store window I could see three men in a corner, apparently playing a Korean game, they play with stones. One of the players noticed me and hurried to the door and invited me in.

“What want? What want? Look. See. Much to sell,” or words to that effect.  It induced me to walk slowly around peeking into boxes of shoes. It was then I saw a small pair of cream colored boots with low heels, not unlike a pair recently purchased with the help of my American friend.

“How much?” I asked.

“Sixty dolla,” the clerk told me.  This shocked me since the final price on the first pair had been something like “$18 dolla.”.

“Too much, “ I said, sadly, shaking my head, and turning on my heel, ready to leave the establishment..

“Wait. Wait,” he shouted. “What  price willing to pay?’

That put me on the spot.”Twenty ?” I asked..

The clerk, looking as though he’d  been hit in the solar plexus, fell to the floor on his knees, moaning and thumping his chest.. Then he wept what seemed like real tears.

Affected by his drama I felt contrite, but said firmly,  “Too much.”

Then the accomplished actor  turned and said, “It’s a deal. Thank you, Maam.“  He began to wrap up the shoes, as I rummaged in my oversized purse for  wan to pay him.

This bag, which I always took with me when I left my room, contained everything of value that I had in Korea–money, checks, passport, etc.  At most any time one could be asked to show his passport.

Each Monday morning the driver took my husband to the bank where he exchanged American dollars for Korean wan. I carefully divided larger bills from smaller ones in an effort to pay with out counting it out in front of others.  Somehow or other I wasn’t as smooth as I intended to be and the clerk moaned to his co worker, “That wasn’t all she had. She had more”

The following week my husband and I were invited for dinner by the company director.  My husband suggested I tell them about my shopping. Our host chortled with delight.

“You,” he said, “Will have to take my wife shopping.”