The Fine Art of Haggling

The Fine Art of Haggling 
(By Andy Meehan)

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Six days into my first trip to Vietnam, I’d have to say that its kind of an assault on your senses. By that I mean that the place seems to oblige you to pay attention to it, and you in turn can’t help but engage. 

Of course, I’ve only been here six days so I can’t go too far with this generalisation, but it’s been my experience so far – whether it’s the seemingly anarchic approach on the roads, the fan or peanut sellers on the streets of Ho Chi Min City, or the restaurant owner in a small village outside of Hoi An – you’re in the story from the start. 

So, on day two when I was catching up with my old friend (and musical companion of a few bands from years gone by), I was excited to learn that you could buy cheap guitars and other string instruments in the capital. Not that I need another guitar, but as every guitarist I have ever known would attest, the lure of a good but cheap guitar is irresistible. It also ensures the continuation of the standard guitarist’s business model – that we will spend roughly three times what we earn in any given year on guitars and assorted accessories. 
 
Added to this pull was the fact that my partner – who plays guitar among a swag of other (mainly horn instruments) – was with me and pretty interested to have a look too. 
That was our next morning plans sorted – find ‘the guitar street’ and have a look around. We set out next morning and found it (despite the ad hoc directions). And he wasn’t kidding in calling it ‘the guitar street’ (real name still unknown by all). There was a little under 20 shops in a 200 metre stretch with all manner of guitars – mostly of brands unknown.

The second shop we went into, we laid eyes on a nice looking semi acoustic with F holes (pleasant f shaped acoustic holes on the front of the guitar). We both liked the looks of it and were considering a play but decided to check the full street first.

We were back after a pretty thorough scan of the shops and a stop off for an Vietnamese ice coffee. But it was my partner who was most in need of a guitar, and most enthused by it – I was really clutching at straws for a legitimate reason to buy a fourth acoustic guitar. 

So she tried it out and gave it to me to have a play and get my views. We both thought it a nice guitar and worth seeing what price we could get it for. We’d already been given a price of $165, but I was more than certain of cutting a better deal from the ticketed price. My partner had already handed responsibilities for this to me when she said ‘you can handle the buying bit – you’re really good at haggling’. 
I needed nothing more than that to spring into action. And spring I did, though I wanted to go pretty easy on the 15 year old daughter of the shop owner who was looking after us – it seemed like a pretty good price, and well, I figured she wasn’t prepared for the haggling skills I was about to unleash.
I moved swiftly to clarify the ticketed price and ask what the best price was. To this she tilted her head back in a (just short of guffaw) laugh. She said that that is the best price. I’d seen this guffaw tactic before so I countered with a bit of a chuckle and asked ‘can’t you take something off that?’ (I still had a few moves left so I wasn’t going in too hard – we hadn’t even started a conversation about a guitar case, I could get some accessories thrown in, and if all else failed I could stage a fake walk out).  

She countered this question with, ‘it’s already reduced – it used to be $200’. As all good hagglers know, sometimes you have to change your point of attack, so I shifted in a mock disappointment tone to, ‘I take it that comes with a hard case?’. To this she pulled out her most devastating move from which I would scramble to recover. She busted out a matter of fact – ‘no, it comes with a plastic bag’. Following clarifying with my partner what sort of bag we were talking about and finding out it was essentially packing paper, I contemplated a mock walk out, but I figured that I had met my match and we would be forced into an embarrassing shop re-enter.

Instead, I asked ‘how much for a hard case’. When she told me, I gingerly asked if she could ‘knock anything off that’. To this she said that it was the best price. At this point, I sensed that she felt sorry for me so she softened the blow with ‘I can give you some strings and picks’. This I figured was her attempt to save some of my haggling honour with my partner. I thought, strings – that’s plural, I wonder what we’re talking here – a 3 pack of quality strings and a 10 pack of picks.

A guitar and case for the ticketed price, one pack of no brand strings, and two guitar picks later, we walked out of that shop knowing that I had been taught a lesson in the fine art of haggling, but happy with the purchase nonetheless.

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