Bargaining, an Olympic Sport

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Editor's Note: Jodi Noffsinger, an American living in Beijing, is filing regular updates on the scene at the Olympics in The Beijing Blonde column on

As an American, one of the hardest things I had to adjust to living in Beijing was the concept of bargaining for just about everything from the furniture for my home to the fruits and vegetables at the market. Bargaining is just part of living here.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good bargain. Give me a half-off sale and I'll find the best deal. But here, it involves much more time and effort, and sometimes even a strategy, to walk away with a bargain. Most tourists also get to experience the art of haggling at any of Beijing's popular knock-off markets, which got me thinking. In the spirit of the games, I wondered how these Olympic tourists were faring on the bargaining front.

So I set out to do some fieldwork and headed to the well-known Silk Market prepared to ask a sample of the eager young salesgirls, whose country was winning in this Beijing sport of bargaining.

Foreigners have always been their target market, as any visit I've made to the Silk Market has proved. Every time I walk down the aisle with my Taiwanese-American husband, they completely ignore him and go after me. "Lady, you want to buy silk scarf?" they always shout at me. So with the arrival of busloads of Olympic guests, this was a match made in heaven.

The Silk Market was the busiest I've ever seen it. Towering athletes roamed the aisles with their coaches, along with hundreds of other Olympic visitors from around the world. Forget the venues, this is where the action is. Even former President Bush stopped by the market on his visit here last weekend.

But when it comes to getting a solid answer on which country has the best bargainers, every salesgirl I asked wouldn't give me a straight answer, "We give everyone the best deals!" they tell me.

I prodded them more, "Come on, there's got to be one country that stands out more than the others, right?" A salesgirl named Sky finally gives in, "Well, I like the Canadians and Brazilians." Another girl, Zhou, said she too liked Canadians, although she couldn't really tell me why.

So I found two Canadians and asked about their bargaining techniques. They said they were just having fun with the whole haggling thing. Maybe it was their smiles. Most of the salesgirls told me they preferred friendly people more than any particular country. Americans are also popular, but as one girl pointed out, they're sometimes just a little too demanding. So how about the Chinese, do they have the home court advantage? Of course, a girl named Sun told me.

And what about the athletes? I spotted three Swedish swimmers carryings several bags full of Silk Market goods. I asked them if bargaining was as hard as training for the Olympics. Not really, said one of the girls, but all the haggling was a bit tiring. Did she think they had gotten good deals? "Of course," she said, adding that she and her teammates were better bargainers than her coaches.

As I left it seemed there were no clear winners in this game of bargaining except for the Silk Market cashing in, earning yet another gold for China.