The price gap: Help! How much should I pay?
"Come, come, look look!" I always feel amused by these calls of the Chinese salespersons and vendors, and this being my second visit to China, I know exactly how much to quote/haggle/settle for or simply walk away. The initial prices quoted to foreigners are indeed bizarre compared to what is settled at the end of a good bargain. But then it is like a game, and both sides begin to enjoy it too!
SOME Chinese wives won't let their Western hubbies go shopping alone - prices will skyrocket when vendors see the luckless laowai. Nancy Zhang explores perplexing pricing.
Newly arrived foreigners are struck by how affordable, how cheap it is to live in China. Everything from taxis to food to shopping is unbelievably cheap in terms of their national currencies.
But the longer they stay, the more they become aware that, whatever the "real" value, they often pay higher prices than local Chinese, often much higher. Expat "rip-off" is vigorously debated.
Not only do foreigners tend to pay more for the same items, Western-style services and products tend to cost more ?? for expats and Chinese alike ?? than similar domestic products and services.
This raises issues of fairness and value for money, the expat price gap.
There's a widespread stereotype among Chinese that most expats, Westerners, are well off, live well and spend a lot. They can afford to pay, the argument goes, and Chinese are comparatively not rich.
Of course, not all foreigners live high, make piles and charge to corporate accounts. (See Shanghai Daily story "Great Expat-ations" on November 19). Many don't earn a lot, regularly eat noodles and hunt for bargains.
It's commonly said there are three opening prices: the price for tourists, expats who speak some Chinese and for Chinese themselves.
British expat James Jobbins, a financial adviser, has lived in Shanghai for six months and got "scalped." Having had a haircut twice at the same local barber shop, he found it cost 10 yuan (US$1.45) the first time, yet 30 yuan the second time.
"There's no question they raised the price the second time because I'm a foreigner," he says. "I went home and told my Chinese housemate, he laughed and said 'you should have called me, it should only cost 10 yuan'."