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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 07-May-17


Sunday 07-May-17

One dollar, ten dollar: the power of embarrassing bargains

I was recently Nepal, walking around Bhaktapur, an ancient citadel near Kathmandu, when I was approached by a street seller, offering me a little brass bowl. 'One dollar!' she cried. One dollar? That's 100 rupees (being a closed-currency country, dollars seen often to be preferred). I'd seen the same bowls for sale elsewhere for much more, so I paused, at which point she thrust the bowl into my hands, followed smoothly by the demand 'Ten dollar'. I paused, blinked and asked 'How much?' 'Ten dollar' she replied, and launched into her sales spiel.

How clever! I had passed by many other stalls, ignoring their pleas. By starting with a fake bargain, this lady had made me stop. Also, she could have easily triggered an embarrassment response, whereby I realize that arguing for the impossibly low one dollar price would make me seem greedy and mean, and so continue with an acceptance of the low price. In fact I would not even be able to just walk off without giving away my unethical act.

Even arguing that she said 'one dollar' would get me nowhere, as her easy response would be to assert that she said 'ten dollars' or, with her limited English, just look pained (more guilt tripping) and repeat the ten dollar price.

For me, this was interesting, though I can see many others feeling trapped and end up paying the ten dollars. It is surprising how much we will do to avoid embarrassment and the disapproval of others, even complete strangers who we will never see again. I briefly considered responding to the game, but felt this would not be right, so I moved on.

A coda to this story is that the exposure to the bowl aroused my desire and the ten dollar pricing anchored me to this value. So when I stopped at another stall where the seller just asked straight out for ten dollars, I paid up without question.

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