Saturday, November 04, 2006

Haggling: Egypt vs. Amsterdam

In the Cairo tourist market of Khan-el-khalili, shopkeepers call out to Mingjing and me:

"One dollar! Just one US dollar!"
"Come look! No cost for looking!"

When we ignore them, they step up the ante to more outlandish comments:

"Buy for your son!" (Do I look that old? sigh)
"Everything free!"
"Want Egyptian husband?"

I let Mingjing do most of the negotiation because she is much better at it. The Egyptians bargain with a smile. A typical conversation:

Shopkeeper: "This is beautiful crystal pyramid. For you, only 150 Egyptian pounds."

Mingjing: "I'll give you 35 pounds."

Shopkeeper: [laughing, drawing finger across throat] "Are you trying to cut my throat? Where you from?"

Mingjing: "China."

Shopkeeper: "Ah, chinese. I like your country. I want to make friend with you. Come on, you give me good price."

Five minutes later, after Mingjing buys the crystal pyramid for 35 pounds, the shopkeeper claps her on the back and tells us to enjoy the rest of our stay in Egypt. They seem genuinely interested in ensuring a positive tone to the negotiation. Several times after the money changes hands, they ask whether we're happy (probably after they overcharged us).


Contrast this to Amsterdam, where I'm on a two-day stopover. Yesterday I dropped into a souvenir shop near the Flower Market to buy postcard stamps. The shopkeeper pulled out five 65-cent stamps, and five additional stamps. "One euro each," he said.

"Isn't it 65 cents?" I said. "It says right there on the stamp."

"You need two stamps on each postcard."

"But I was just here two weeks ago, and I only needed one stamp. And I'm not sure, but I think it was cheaper than one euro for each postcard."

"There's been a change in stamps," he said.

I paused, and then said, "Thank you, but I changed my mind about the stamps." I put my wallet back into my purse.

I turned and walked toward the exit. After I took two steps, suddenly the shopkeeper shouted behind me, "You leave now!"

I swiveled back to stare at him. His white moustache quivered as he yelled. "We try to help you, but you suspect us! You go to post office! Get out of my shop! Go away!"

I don't remember walking, but my next memory is of standing in the street, looking at him through the open door. "You go now!" He shouted at me, raising his arm to point down the street.


Nelson Blaha said...

It's killing me! What do the postcards actually cost in Amsterdam?? I can't tell from your blog if the man was angry because you suggested he was cheating you or if he was just trying to save face!

Anonymous said...

That's happened to me with a middleeastern shop owner in the states. I looked him up in the BBB, and for a company run only by him for a couple years, he already had one complaint. Evil people just irk me.

Nico said...

let's say that may be dutch people do non need to overcharge americans for their living.
not so pitoresque, I agree.

in Europe is different.

Bart Samwel said...

It's true that in Amsterdam you can get scammed a bit, and that the people are less friendly. Saving face is not an issue in The Netherlands, so when people have no use for you anymore (since you refused to buy their overpriced goods), they can simply vent their frustration on you. :-/

BTW, it actually really isn't 65 cents to send a postcard to the US. I just looked it up, and it's 80 cents, or 85 cents for priority mail. The 65 cents stamps are for postcards within Europe, so perhaps on earlier occasions you've been sold 65 cent stamps by someone assuming the within-Europe price. As there are no 80-cent stamps, the guy should have sold you 5 65-cent stamps and 5 15-cent stamps. The total price should then match what's on the stamps -- not one Euro each: 80 cents each. So either he was trying to scam you, or he was selling you 65-cent stamps plus 35-cent stamps and he really thought that that was the price. In the latter case, he was just not a very smart guy -- what's the saying again, "never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity" -- and he was really offended by your distrust. Oh well. :-)

Anonymous said...

Throughout Europe there are lot of immigrants from Bangladesh and other poor countries, many of them work as street vendors or have small gift shops. With them you can bargain. But with the european shopkeepers it is usually better not to bargain (except in Italy).

Sometimes I think they had a bad experience with a shopper and so they take out their frustation on the next shopper of the same race :)

About the "buy a gift for your son" is a deliberate one to offend you for not buying at his shop. Its only disguised so (they wouldn't use it on a really "mom" looking woman).

Niniane said...

An update: I bought postcard stamps in the Amsterdam airport for only 85 cents per stamp. So the shopkeeper was trying to overcharge me, though it's not clear whether it was intentional or a mistake.