The Negotiator Magazine

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Dear K.L.,

Thank you for your question. First, you may be quite surprised at how many people you will encounter who speak English. There has been quite a push throughout Asia to increase English language instruction in the schools. For example, China now has a ten year English curriculum in place. Young people are always good possibilities in any country as possible English speakers.

That said, the basic negotiation process will operate, but you will need to make some adjustments to each distinctive culture and your circumstance as a foreign traveler as you move along. Here would be my suggestions for your bargaining forays:

1. Know the laws governing what can be legally purchased, exported from the country, carried into neighboring countries you will be transiting and then imported to your homeland. Get all required paperwork and all the required stamps and inspections. Be especially careful about "antiquities," products that may use parts of "endangered species" and anything else that may be an illegal commodity.

2. Recognize that as a foreign tourist you will be viewed as a "rich" person, whatever you presume, and prices for you are unlikely to match those accorded to persons living down the street.

3. Do some preparation on local customs so you don't insult your bargaining partner out of ignorance, you conform to normal courtesies, and you don't make ridiculously low offers. Take the comments of some tourists on their "great deals" with the proverbial grain of salt as you might when told a tale of a big fish that got away.

4. For most transactions, the cost of labor, the scarcity of the item, the going market price, the reputation of the vendor and other components you take for granted will be difficult, if not impossible to determine. You are operating some what blindly on instincts and hopes. "Caveat emptor (the buyer beware)," must be your motto.

5. Seek out recommendations on vendors, ask advice on reasonable offers, concession strategies and target price ranges. Consider hiring a guide or a local student as your third-party negotiator to help you learn the ropes of the marketplace and represent you in early transactions.

6. Know your BATNA (best alternative to this agreement) and prepare to walk away when you can not achieve your target. Make certain that you calculate all the costs in the price. Remember that a water buffalo may be available at an incredibly low price, but the cost of shipping it home will take more than a bit of the glow off the bargain.

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April 2005