One of the toughest things about doing business in China is that you don’t always know if you’re being cheated or not. Sometimes things just take longer, or the quality or service is really just that poor for everyone.
This is a problem for newcomers to China, because about 75% of your Year-One confrontations are at least partially mistakes. There’s no worse burn among locals than being labeled the short-tempered foreigner who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Still, there’s nothing wrong with taking a stand when you are right – but the tricky bit is knowing. A good indicator is the speed at which casual Chinese acquaintances start speaking in aphorisms. If there’s a proverb or folk story to describe your situation then you are probably getting screwed.
"That sounds OK," or "don’t worry so much" translate pretty well. But once they start with the "tiger on the mountain can’t catch fish in the stream…" stuff, it’s pretty much over. You are dead, and they are glad. The more they want you to know the story behind the expression, the happier they are that you’ve been screwed.
How to know if you are getting screwed in China:
2. They rack their brains thinking of people they can put you in touch with to help. But they usually can’t.
3. A good rule of thumb for negotiating in China is that the nicer and friendlier your counter-party is behaving, the worse you are being abused.
You can see it in the street markets. They are all smiles and "good friends" when you are just starting out, but once you get a knack for haggling and start winning a few skirmishes they see you off with a scowl.
I guess it’s like my grandfather used to say: "A friend you get for nothing; an enemy must be bought."