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)
"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?"
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.