Sunday morning at Jiashan Market.
The egg vendor was having a really good day sales-wise, and had an empty basket he was willing to sell me.
This turned into a classic Shanghai moment. The egg-seller wanted 20 RMB for the basket (around $3.50). I thought it was a great deal, and agreed to his price. A lady walking by said that price was too cheap. She wandered off, then came back and vociferously repeated her advice. I picked out a dozen eggs (10 RMB, $1.65 or so), gave the egg seller a 100 RMB bill (around $18), and he refused to give me change.
So what happened here? Guanxi, often translated as "face" (as in "saving face") was on the line.
The egg-seller doesn't live in Shanghai - he's from the country side. 20 RMB is probably double the cost of the basket in his home town, i.e. a good deal for him.
The advice-giving lady caused him to lose face by telling him that he's not charging enough (especially from a foreigner) - implying that he's bad at business. This causes him to lose face, so he refuses to give me change.
I'm happy with the basket and what I paid for it, and life moves on.
The funny post script comes last night, when my friendly local fruit seller gave me a beautiful bamboo basket used for holding strawberries and refused to take any money for it.
Everybody knows everybody on the alley, and there's a good chance he heard about the incident from the day before.