Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Art of Bargaining

The United States is an anomaly among human cultures. We have virtually eliminated bargaining from daily life. At the grocery store, nobody haggles. You make your selections, the cashier scans the items, you make payment, they bag it, you drive off. Not so in the rest of the world. The first stated price is an outrageous affront, designed to invoke scorn and disdain from the customer. What follows is an elaborate ritual that is really only to your advantage if you know how much an item should cost to begin with. Which,of course, we don't. So. Everything becomes a complicated battle of wills. Cab rides, bannana buying, securing a hotel, selecting a sarong are all suddenly hugely exhausting procedures. But I think we are getting the hang of it.

Our new friend Araseli is an American expat from San Diego who has been in Kenya for five years. She took us to a local market in Nairobi, which was a sea of little tin roofed huts, all brimming over with handmade baskets, beaded necklaces, key chains, ciggarette lighters, picture frames, "ebony" sculptures, scarves, kikoys, bowls, serving sets, salt shakers and paintings. Every vendor was grabbing our hands to pull us inside and show us thier wares and ask the most important question in determining the price of the object; "What country are you from?" Answer "America" and you are a sitting duck. Suddenly that little picture frame that cost 50 Kenyan Shillings to make is now a priceless art object that couldn't possibly go for less than 6,000 shillings. So, we either learned to ignore that question or to say "Ummm, Poland!"

But Araseli helped us and we managed to get some really lovely little things that will be easy to pack and tote. I bought a lot of fabrics, scarves and kikoys (these pretty plaid sarong things they wear here), jewlery and some little flat things. We did look into shipping but it was $200 U.S dollars for a five pound box. This seemed to quickly undo any of the good bargaining we'd done, so we've just stuffed our bags a little bit more fully. Look forward to a little mini bazaar when I get home. You can come and pick out a fantastic African curio. Christmas will just have to be in March this year.

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