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"Your gums are a little inflamed in the upper left quadrant." The hygienist poked around in my mouth. "I know you try to take good care of them," she said sympathetically, adjusting the saliva suction tube. "Eah, I goo, I eally goo," I told her. "I want to inject a bit of antibiotic into your gums," she said. I sensed a deal coming. Pulling out the suction tube, I sat up.

"How much?" I asked. I knew my question wasn't clear: How much antibiotic, or how much would I have to pay? I was hoping to throw the hygienist off guard by suggesting that the whole concept was a lot for me to handle: a lot of antibiotics, a lot of money, an overwhelming situation with which I needed help. The heck with the five positive emotions; I was going straight for pity. Three shots, the hygienist said. "Yikes," I said, lying back down. I looked up at her pathetically. "Can you give me a deal?"

"Huh?" she said, surprised. She looked at me while I stuck the tube back in my mouth and opened wide. I was done negotiating; the next move was hers. ("Some of the most effective negotiation is accomplished by saying nothing," writes William Ury in his classic book Getting Past No, which I'd lingered over during my weeks of stalling.) "Well, I guess I can do something," she said. "How about I give you the three shots but only charge you for one?" I gave her a drooly smile. "Hank you!"

On my way back to the office, I passed the Alliance Française, a language institute, and realized that in preparation for an upcoming trip, it wouldn't be a bad idea to brush up on my French. Inside, a handsome instructor told me I could get a series of conversation and grammar courses for $75 per hour. "Is there some way I can get a discount?" I asked. "If you sign up for 12 hours of instruction or more, you pay $72 per hour," the instructor said.

What if I signed up for twice that? For 24 hours of classes, could I pay $70 per hour? "No, madame, we cannot do that." "Mais je suis une bonne étudiante!" I said. (Affiliation, en Français.)

"Désolé," said the instructor, with a tilt of his handsome head. I was about to leave, but he seemed to be considering something. "We will be offering a 10 percent discount on all classes soon," he said.

Discount? When? "At the end of the week, you will find a coupon in the newspapers for a discount." Great! What papers? "I cannot tell you that, madame. I do not know." (You might recognize, as I did, an unmistakable Kafkaesque quality in this exchange.) But if I call at the end of the week, you can tell me? "I suppose so, yes. And the discount will be offered on our Web site, also."

Had something been lost in translation? Puzzled, I left. But I was tickled by the idea that I was fast becoming a bargaining virtuoso.

Did a salesman in a high-end shop on Madison Avenue make Val's day?

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