Friday, August 19, 2005

The art of haggling

One thing I'm looking forward to in my upcoming visit to Istanbul is the opportunity to work on my haggling skills. I am a lousy haggler. My mother, on the other hand, is a masterful practitioner of that most ancient and sophisticated art. It's time I pick up some of her skills.

One thing I've noticed watching my mom is that there is a certain ritual to the whole thing. My mom, who effectively haggled a vendor in Bali down to three used waterproof generic Swiss watches in exchange for a giant, beautiful batik tablecloth with 20 napkins, has a modus operandi that usually works.

She'll walk by the stall or booth or store selling the goods, pause, look around, pick up something that interests her, fondle it for a bit, looking closely at it, then ask the vendor how much. Whatever price he says, she'll shake her head sadly, look at the item one more time, and move as if to walk away. At which point, in any decent haggling country, the vendor will drop the price. This is when my mom rolls up her sleeves and goes to work - and where I lose track of the process. "You want 80 for that. No. How about 30?" "30. Impossible! 70." Mom shakes head and moves to walk away again. "65." Another shake. "60. And that's my last offer." Mom turns around. "60 - if you throw in that wooden flute and the salt and pepper shaker." "Deal."

I don't get it. It's mysterious. But in the Turkish bazaar - you have no option except to bargain. So hopefully I'll pick something up.

My mom's haggling skills are beyond normal. She haggled when we moved to the states and were buying appliances at Montgomery Ward. Who the hell haggles at a department store? But she invariably managed to get them to knock the tax off. In Japan, department stores seemingly let you haggle. It was beautiful. And in Hungary, my dad and I were frequently banished from my mom's commercial dealings - she didn't want our speaking English to hamper her bargaining position.

I hope I can get a good deal on something in Istanbul. The only problem is that since the exchange rate is about 1.4 million Turkish lira to 1 US dollar, it'll be REALLY hard for me to convert the currency in my head and effectively haggle - since haggling is in part all about speed.


Blogger kitsurubami said...

There is this book by Jeffrey Goldberg (of the New Yorker) about a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews moving to a mid-western farm state, not getting along with anybody, and then moving back to New York a few years later. One of the mitigating factors was that they insisted on haggling over everything, and the midwesterners had no idea how to handle that.

8:42 PM  

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