“Don’t trust taxi drivers” instructs an English teacher at the Banking academy. His long beard, in the style of Hoh Chi Minh, whisps delicately in the breeze over his rotund figure. In Hanoi, a shopper can find everything from used clothes to silk shops next to tailors. Since the tailored clothes only cost a few times what the used ones do, I will hire a tailor when I buy my next shirt. Silk dries faster than cotton, lasts longer, and doesn’t hold odors very long. The Brooks Brothers’ shop, next to Pierre Cardin and a few other expensive American brand-name cloth-merchants, seems full of clothes, but has almost no customers. What you will want to buy is silk, pure silk, and then have it made into shirts, skirts, pants, ties, scarves, handkerchiefs (now called “pocket squares”), and other items of clothing. You will first want to check the quality of the silk, by seeing that it burns like hair, stinking and leaving a hard ash, never melting at all, but not burning without the lighter’s assistance.
“Two hundred thousand—too much” translates a friend of mine looking at a sweater for me. When buying things, always offer a lower price, about half, of what the seller tries to sell you. Every sale I have seen involves a salesman trying to put his fingers in my wallet. At the end of one day, I noticed that I was missing about twenty United States’ dollars (500,000 Vietnamese Dollars). These dollars went missing somehow; I don’t know when they did.
“The people are bad.” The young businesswoman tells me how to deal with Hanoian businesses. She owns several schools and speaks perfect English. Behaving aggressively is the way that people are expected to to business here; the key to a successful transaction is not to trust people. Don’t just play the game that you are negotiating when you buy things. Really convince a salesman that you are walking out before offering a lower price. Keep your wallet at least three feet from the hands of anyone else while it is open. While it is closed, keep a hand on it. If someone steals from you or tries to keep a huge a amount of change, get ready to fight. When he sees that you are willing to injure him and yourself in a potential fiscal contest, he will pay up. Another great strategy, and a safer one, is to record everything. Then, you can threaten his reputation if he tries to steal from you by not paying change. It seems harsh, but it’s hard to be treated safely and fairly as a foreigner in Hanoi.