跳蚤市場上的社會學

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1999 / 4月

文‧〈紐西蘭 畢恭〉



我在跳蚤市場上擺攤,無論是最初的觀念到最終目的都只有一個:搵銀﹙賺錢﹚。但是,每次從跳蚤市場歸來,我所認為的最大收穫與每次喜孜孜細數不疲的紐幣卻並不相干。

跳蚤市場這個窗口的所見所聞,使我有如發現新大陸──紐西蘭,是世界第四大移民國,跳蚤市場可說齊聚各方好漢,而仔細觀察,不同民族的確有著大異其趣的行為模式。

紐西蘭最大都市奧克蘭的華人不過約七萬餘,但跳蚤市場百分之八怐澈源都來自華人,他們到跳蚤市場上採購,百分之九怓O為了他們無法從原居地移民時一齊帶來的果蔬食物而來。至於耐用品,中國人都樂意從原居地帶來。我有一個朋友,在紐西蘭定居的第三個年頭,還用著原居地帶來的洗髮精。他們從原居地帶來的廁紙足足用了兩年。許多拔根移往海外的中國人,會將整個家塞進數量不一的貨櫃裡,運往移民地。貨櫃裡往往還有許多空隙,於是便有了用廁紙填充的新意念。精打細算是一種美德;但物極必反,一些開著「賓士」而來的闊太太,會為一元幾角展開拉鋸討價戰。中國人的還價功夫堪與聞名全球的中國功夫媲美。

經過攤前,偶爾駐足的同胞,不管買或不買,有意無意,總要摸一摸、翻一翻樣品,還一還價,是為常規動作。還完價,並不買,是日子悶得慌找人聊天?還是作市場價格調查?若有購買意欲者,一上來便無情殺價,死纏爛打,馬拉松、持久戰,怳K般武藝使盡。他們算術才能超人,手起刀落,總是價格的七寸處。還價道行令我肅然起敬,最後我總是被迫就範。這事情令人費解,怎麼越是同胞,越不想讓我活?

某對父母要為兒子買一個學生書包,卻將學生書包以外的旅行袋也翻了個遍,然後開始還價:「看在中國人份上,我特來幫襯你,」這時站在他旁邊的一個小男孩蹦出一句,續上他父親的下半句:「看到大家都是老鄉,能不能便宜點?」我驚呆了眼睛!望著眼前這個兒童,戴著副遮擋半個臉的大眼鏡,滿面稚氣,童聲可愛,瞧那樣滿打滿算也不過七、八歲,我對其父親的遺傳能力佩服得五體投地。他要的書包所標價二怳腹A他還價怳腹C也許從大陸出來的人都有對個體戶標價的的商品都須大砍一半的經驗。他同時也應知道,在法規健全的西方社會,暴利乃無藏身之處。同樣的商品,跳蚤市場上的價格常常只有超級市場的四分之三或三分之二。我的進價如實相告是怳誘腹A只想賺四元。價格還到怳C元,我堅決不還了。對方摸到我堅守的底線了,拋出一句:「我買兩個,三怳T元;怎麼樣,一口價?」真是出我不意,攻我不備。僅為了五毛錢,我再次讓步;然而──他並沒有掏錢,只是說:「我一會回頭買,」接著揚長而去、再沒回頭。

紐西蘭人的購物模式,與此截然不同。不論我猜測他是富者或窮人,購物風格:幾乎從不講價,只要是想買的商品,付了錢就走。偶爾有還價的,多是紳士式,在遞錢的時候送上一句:「可以優惠嗎?」在我一句「對不起」之後,決不會因此而將伸出的手縮回。與其說是講價,毋寧說是打趣。臨走,還一迭帶笑的多謝,彷彿賺錢的不是我而是他,此類含笑帶謝也許要等到我的商品是免費大贈送,方能在中國人的臉上看到,紐西蘭人往往就買擺出來的樣品,中國人從來不買樣品;紐西蘭人對所購之物總是品評優點,中國人則是盡挑毛病。

討價,當然並非中國人最厲害。別的民族,也有還價的嗜好。細細察之,如有不明國籍者,我便試圖探詢。諸如:伊朗、越南、柬埔寨、蘇聯、南斯拉夫、羅馬尼亞、中南美洲等都有討價之嗜好者。有的白人顧客問不清楚是哪裡人,但憑著第六感官與共同的社會主義歷練而形成的精神世界,我便能準確猜測出他們來自東歐社會。當然,他們的討價招數遠在中國人之下。我很快又發現,中國人的還價本領居然還不是舉世無雙。這一桂冠得拱手讓給印度人,印度人的殺價本領直教人瞠目結舌!被其一砍,連還價餘地都沒有。一砍就是成本價以下,極少可以成交。一位年約五怐漲L度婦人,極具馬拉松賽跑耐力。為了一個學生背包磨了我半天,我已極不耐煩,卻須耐著性子,那書包進價怳G元,我賣怳C元,她還八元。我說怳T元,少了一分錢不賣。她走一會兒又回來再磨,知道價錢已無法再殺,便說去拿錢,拿錢回來,我一數,只怳G元,她說只有怳G元,一分錢也沒有了,我不賣。然後她在身上又摸了一通,好不容易又掏出五毛錢。她贏了,我再沒有耐性與她周旋下去,她將我的存貨仔細挑剔了一遍,服務她將近一個鐘頭,卻只賺到五毛錢,真累死我了!她拿著書包居然還滿面不高興地走了。故事到此似乎也該結束了。然而,再富想像力的小說家也想不出它的結局來。一個月後,那個引起我不愉快的面孔又出現在我面前,手裡拿著那個書包,怒目相視:「這袋怎麼做的,一個月不到就爛了,退我錢!」我仔細一看,才找到包底縫合處有一小缺口。這種書包賣了很多還未有過退貨紀錄。一個念頭滑過腦際,怎麼退貨的盡是印度人?我按照常例給她換一個。「不,我要退還我的錢!」。一場爭辯之後,我最後只好把錢退給她。印度婦人剛走,臨攤的洋人告訴我,那邊有一攤位同樣的怳G元可以買到,我才恍然大悟。我除了對其精神的歎服,實在無話可說。

這些愛好討價還價的民族,有一個共同特色:都是來自貧窮地區,但貧困卻並不一定和殺價劃上等號,有一個民族或許比她們更貧窮──紐西蘭的土生土著毛利人以及來自附近島國的島人,因為他們許多都是靠國家救濟金維生。然而當他們購買物品的時候,卻從來不講價。其付款的爽快風格,連本地白人都自歎弗如。不但付款豪爽,一次購買的東西也特別多。開店的中國人有一共識:「毛利人、島人的錢最好賺」。窮,不能說明一切,那麼原因何在?

自然,討價無罪。還價的藝術可以展現一個人、一個民族的聰明度,使我疑惑的是:在一個眾多移民的國度裡,我對多民族的觀察比較中,中國人、印度人精明度相較於其他的民族顯然略勝一籌。然而,這兩個超級人口的古老文明國憑著這股聰明,為何至今不能成為世界經濟強國?

p47

跳蚤市場在海外甚為風行,日常用品幾乎都可以在此購得,節省不少金錢。

p48

平常已經用不著的東西,也可以拿來以貨易貨。不過,市場內充斥價廉物美的新品,已經很少看到舊貨了。

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EN

Flea Market Sociology

Jack Xiong /tr. by David Mayer


I run a stall at the flea market with one purpose in mind-to make money. That's why I started, and that's why I continue. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that I never tire of counting the money I take in at the flea market, it turns out that the greatest reward comes from another source entirely.

I see and hear so many things at the flea market that I always come home feeling like I've just discovered the New World-not America, but New Zealand. Only three countries in the world take in more immigrants per year than New Zealand, so people from every corner of the earth end up coming to the flea market. When you observe closely, you discover that people from different ethnic groups shop the market very differently.

In Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, there are only about 70,000 Chinese, yet they account for a good 80% of the customers at the flea market. Nine times out of ten, they come to buy fruit, vegetables, and other groceries-the types of things they would not have been able to bring with them when they immigrated to New Zealand. They only come to the flea market to buy perishables, because they like to take just about everything else with them when they immigrate. I have a friend who has been in New Zealand for more than two years, yet he is still using the shampoo that he brought with him, and the toilet paper he brought lasted a whole two years! When Chinese people emigrate, they generally pack all their possessions into containers and ship them to the new country, and the empty spaces inside the containers often get filled with toilet paper. Thrift is a virtue, to be sure, but it's possible to take a good thing too far. You often see people drive up to the flea market in a Mercedes-Benz only to get into long, drawn out haggling sessions just to save a dollar. We Chinese are famous throughout the world for our martial arts, but we deserve just as much fame for our bargaining skills.

Whenever Chinese people stop at my stall, they are sure to rummage through the goods and try to bargain down the price, regardless of whether they have any intention of buying anything! I sometimes wonder why they do that. Are they just bored and looking for someone to talk with? Or are they trying to get a feel for the market? People who really intend to buy come on strong right from the start, and they drive an extremely hard bargain. They just keep coming at you, and use every trick in the book to try to wear you down. And they certainly know their arithmetic! No matter what the price is, you can be sure that they are going to offer you 70%. When I run into an expert haggler, I always end up giving in. It seems ironic that my own compatriots are more reluctant than anyone else to see me making any money.

Some parents once came by my stall to buy a book bag for their son. Don't ask me why they had to first rummage through all the travel bags! After they had finished looking at the travel bags, the father said, "We thought we would give you some business since you're Chinese." No sooner spoken, than the little boy at his side chimed in, "Seeing as we're all from the same place, couldn't you give us a break on the price?" I was amazed! This little kid, with a sweet, young voice and glasses hiding half his face, couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old. I had to hand it to the father-he had certainly done a good job of passing his genes on to his child. He offered $10 for book bag carrying a $20 price tag. Maybe it's because everyone from mainland China knows that street hawkers back home jack up their prices so high that they are actually willing to be taken down 50%. They should also be aware that in a country like New Zealand, with its well-established Western legal system, nobody can get away with bullying people. Compared with regular stores, products usually sell at a quarter to a third cheaper in the flea market. The book bag in question cost me $16, so I was only trying to make four dollars on it. He bargained me down to $17, and then I refused to go any lower. Having determined my bottom-line, he took me by surprise by saying, "I'll give you $33 for two, what do you say?" He was still haggling over a lousy 50 cents per bag! I gave in, but he made no move to pay any money. Instead, he said, "I'll be back later," and walked off. I never saw him again.

New Zealanders of Caucasian descent are totally different. Regardless of whether they look rich or poor, they almost never try to bargain. They just buy what they want and leave. Every once in a while, someone will throw out a gentlemanly "Can you make it a little cheaper?" as they are handing me their money. I always say, "I'm sorry," and no one has ever changed their mind about buying from me. They are not so much bargaining as they are just having a little fun. And then, as they leave, they smile real big and thank me, as if they were the ones making money off of me! I'm afraid I would have to give away my merchandise for free if I wanted to see that kind of smiling face on a Chinese customer. There are other differences, too. Caucasians usually buy what I've got out on display, which Chinese people never do. Caucasians like to ooh and ah over a product's finer points, while the Chinese do nothing but comment on flaws.

Chinese people are not the only people in the world who haggle over price, though. People from other countries do it, too. I like to notice nationality, and when I don't know where a customer is from, I will ask. There are lots of experienced bargainers from Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Central and South America. It is often difficult to tell where a Caucasian customer is from, but because I myself am from a socialist country, I can always tell if they are from Eastern Europe. There's just some kind of aura that we people with that background share in common. The Chinese are much tougher bargainers, however. I have been surprised, nevertheless, to find that we Chinese are not the bargaining champions of the world. That honor goes to our South Asian neighbors, the Indians. Once you have seen them in action, you can only marvel at their bargaining skills! They start off by offering you less than you paid for your merchandise, and it is very rare that you make a sale. An Indian woman about 50 years old once came by my stall and set some sort of record for marathon endurance! She haggled forever over a backpack, and was really trying my patience. The backpack had cost me $12. The price tag was $17, and she offered me eight. I told her "Thirteen dollars, take it or leave it." She left, and came back a little while later. This time, she knew she couldn't knock the price down any lower, so she told me that she would go get her money. When I counted up what she had handed me, however, it only came to $12. She told me it was all she had, so I refused to sell. She then fished in her pockets and, with a great show of difficulty, managed to come up with another 50 cents. I had no more patience to wrangle any longer with her, so I gave in. By the time she had finished picking through my inventory and examining each piece with extreme care, she had taken up nearly an hour of my time, and all I had to show for my trouble was a lousy 50 cents! I felt exhausted. She took the backpack and walked away-with a very dissatisfied looked on her face! If you think that's the end of the story, though, you are mistaken. Even the most imaginative novelist could not have thought up what was yet to come. A month later, that same disagreeable woman showed up again, backpack in hand, glaring angrily. "What kind of stuff do you sell here? This thing fell apart less than a month after I bought it. I want my money back!" After looking at the bag carefully for a long time, I finally managed to find a small hole in the stitching along the bottom. I had sold a lot of those backpacks, and not one had ever been returned. A question occurred to me: Why is it always Indians who ask for their money back? I offered to exchange the backpack for another one, which was standard procedure. "No! I want my money back!" After arguing with her for a while, I finally gave her a refund. After she had left, a Westerner running the stall next to mine told me that they sold the exact same kind of backpack for $12 at another stall nearby. Only then did I understand what had happened. I had to admire the woman for her audacity!

People with the habit of bargaining have one point in common-they all come from poor countries. That does not mean, however, that poverty inevitably gives rise to the custom of bargaining. New Zealand's Maori aborigines and the people from the nearby islands are perhaps poorer than anyone else who comes to the flea market. Many depend on government welfare payments just to get by, but they never haggle over price. They part with their money even more readily than white New Zealanders, and what's more, they always make big purchases. Chinese people who sell at the market are all in agreement that it's easiest to make money from the Maoris and the islanders. If poverty isn't the explanation, though, I wonder how to account for the different attitudes toward bargaining?

There's nothing wrong with bargaining, of course. Individuals and ethnic groups display their intelligence by how they go about this ancient art. At the same time, however, it seems ironic that the people of China and India should do it better than anyone else. I can't help but wonder why it is that the world's two most populous nations, each with an ancient culture and formidable bargaining skills, are not among the world's most powerful economies.

p47

Flea markets are very popular abroad. Just about any household item can be bought there at a big saving.

p48

Things that sit around the house unused can also be bartered for other goods, but there are so many new products selling so inexpensively that you no longer find many second-hand items.

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