Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bargaining Plus A Bonus

In three continents over three decades and may it never end. Every experience remembered like it took place just last week.

The second of this three segment story WAS last week (February 2010) and it triggered a desire to document a special feature of our travels.

The experience is entering a souk or bazaar with the intent to buy. I have chosen scenes that took place in Morocco,Syria and India.

Initially I was intimidated by the souks. The eyes of merchants catching your entry into their small sphere of influence is felt. A glance their way is interpreted as permission to cast their line for the fish. And quite a line it can be.In their serpentine alleyways with foreign sounds,aromas and the unexpected, the bazaars and souks seemingly place me on the set of a foreign movie with 1001 characters milling about like agitated bees in a hive.

A significant, calming and reassuring transition happens when one leaves the milieu of uncertainty mentioned above and enters a merchants shop within the bazaar or souk. Particularly, if it is your intention to make a purchase. No longer are you the fish in the ocean; no longer is the scene foreign with so much apparent Brownian movement. In a way,outside you were an extra in that movie; now you become a principal character.This is the intention of the merchant and he facilitates the fantasy well. No popcorn today, but may I offer the reader a cup of mint tea and the following.

1. In 1983 we made our first visit to Morocco. A trip through the souk there is a must. Diane wanted to purchase some Berber jewelry for her shop in San Francisco so there we were around 10:00 A.M. in Fez sipping tea while sitting on beautiful carpets on the third floor of a gracious merchant’s shop. He chatted with us while three assistants progressively brought out more stunning pieces for our inspection. Diane had a spending limit and the merchant of course had a price limit.

On and on the process went with counter offers and the switching of candidate jewelry. After three hours and lots of tea the exchange was finalized. A djellaba for me was also thrown in. But that was not the end. The merchant hugged us both, congratulated us for choosing such quality and being so astute in bargaining and proceeded to invite us to his home. It was around 10:00 P.M.or twelve hours after first entering his shop when he took us home. His wife had prepared two meals for us all while we watched videos of their recent wedding (the entire wedding celebration lasted a week).

2. We left San Francisco for the Middle East in January 2010 with measurements in hand for a new hallway carpet. It was our intention to purchase a new runner in either Syria or Iran.

We were at the fringes of the Aleppo,Syria souk,(which, by the way, is one of the oldest such shopping areas in the world) when Phillipe Hassan Martini walked towards us. He and a colleague were fishing for customers. By a happy coincidence for him, we were heading to his store anyway because of a prior recommendation.

Phillipe, with his fluency in English and Italian (along with Arabic and other languages) impressed us with his intelligence, interests, courtesy and general demeanor. He certainly was different than most with his Italian and Syrian/Jewish heritage. And his smile would melt an iceberg.

His shop is small with eclectic choices ranging from jewelry to textiles to various assorted antiquities. That day, however, we wanted to just get acquainted. A trip upstairs to view his carpets was to come about two days later. In the meantime, through his recommendation, we arranged for a driver to take us to some wonderful archeology sites the following day.

When we did go upstairs two days later Phillipe’s business partner also came along since carpets were his forte. The two of them were exchanging comments in Arabic as Diane and I began looking around. This time, a purchase was made within an hour. Did I say a runner? Well, we bought two. The fish were hungry that day. No need to elaborate on the purchase details but they were complex.

It was the wonderful friendship development between Diane, me and Phillipe over the ensuing five days that made this encounter special. We shared many,many hours of dialogue over the course of four evenings with not only him but with his partner and mother of his son,as well as with his closest friend (Hazem Akil) who is a well known Syrian painter, and his wife Jamana. Our tastes in history,architecture,politics and so many other topics were also exchanged on long walks through the old and new cities of Aleppo. The discussions were both serious and humerous.

In the beginning of this segment I mentioned the dialogue in Arabic between Phillipe and his partner when we first bartered for a carpet. Phillipe later told us that they had been heatedly discussing whether to bargain (Phillipe’s preference) or stick with a fixed price. For us, bargaining was more enjoyable even though we know that merchants never lose on these “deals”.

3. It was 2000 and warm that afternoon in Jodpur,India when Diane and I took a taxi to buy bedspreads in the central bazaar. I had trouble exiting the taxi because a cow was standing right outside my door. The whole area was crowded with families looking at what the street vendors were showing and it took us a while to find a store with the proper selections.

Shortly thereafter we were sipping tea on the second floor while sitting upon a three foot assemblage of carpets and listening to the owner describe the benefits of various choices of stunning bedspreads that his three assistants were displaying.

To this day I still am uncertain if what then ensued was spontaneous or designed. I will never know and it doesn’t matter.

We liked one particular bedspread but the price of this plus one other was too high. After offering some unacceptable alternatives the store owner asked me, “What can I offer you for your lovely wristwatch?” I was momentarily speechless but soon told him that it was a fake Rolex that I had purchased for less than $10 that year in Hanoi. He said he did not care because such watches are not available in Jodpur. After telling him “no” I thought a bit and quickly changed my mind. I decided that I really did not have any particular affection for that timepiece.

Off came the watch and the owner lowered his price and the most charming scene then occurred in that showroom. I looked up and the owner was admiring his new watch while his first assistant proudly put on the owners now former wristwatch. The next assistant acquired the first assistant’s and so on. The room was full of four men with new watches and a couple with the bedspreads they wanted. Just another day at the bazaar.

[Via http://jimbreivis.wordpress.com]

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