If you, like me, were born and reared in Midwestern America then a “bargain” is something you find in the back of a store, somewhere between the rack of leopard print leggings and the bin of plastic poppies. Even in a used-car lot, a “bargain” describes a vehicle-shaped object and is by no means a word that implies action.
In the Middle East, however, “bargain” is a verb not a noun. And this takes some getting used to.
Despite my unassuming Midwestern upbringing, on my recent trip to Jerusalem, I was a force to be reckoned with in the souks. I’d like to say it was because I was savvy to the tricks of the trade, but in reality, it was my inability to quickly convert shekels into dollars.
So basically, when the shopkeeper would state his price in shekels, I would usually laugh at the ridiculously high sum.
350 shekels for 3 scarves? Who cares if they are wool or silk? Preposterous!
Inevitably, I would retort with a number closer to an average resting heart rate than a high blood pressure reading, to which the shopkeeper would reply with a grimace.
I wasn’t big on the ‘give and take’ nature of the proceedings, and so I would normally cut to the rock bottom price, and every time I did this and refused to budge, the shopkeeper would ask, “Where are you from?” And every time I answered, “I live in Germany,” he would give me the price I asked.
Maybe it is the perception that Americans are rich (which we are) or maybe it is the perception that the Germans are thrifty (which, for the most part, they are), but whatever the reason, saying I was from Germany sealed the deal in more than one case.
The funnest part of bargaining was when my friend made an offer for a chess board. During negotiations, I tried to be as German as possible, which primarily meant NOT smiling, and finally I whispered something to her, and then we ended up walking out of the store. The guy chased us down saying, “I want to be happy; you want to be happy; we all want to be happy!” and he accepted her offer, asking, “Where are you from?”
Even though I drove a hard bargain in Jerusalem, I was a little more generous in Petra. The people there didn’t have fine shops, and most of the merchandise was covered with sand. Plus the Jordanian dinar was about the same as the euro, so it made quick calculating much easier. I deliberately paid a bit more for my four fake Nabatean coins, but then the woman added a fifth, “For the Mom.”
And I thought I was the generous one.