In Egypt, amid the Pyramids, I give my daughter a lesson in bargaining.
“Sandstone pyramid? Hieroglyphics? How about jewellery?” asks the young boy as he runs after us. We have just exited the Pyramids outside Cairo. There’s a long line of shops on either side of the car park. Each shop has a smiling Arab man in front who beckons us with announcements and offers. “Best products, madam. How about statues of Egyptian gods? Best price.”
My younger daughter, Malu, 10, loves Egypt. We bought her two books about Egyptian gods and goddesses. We walk into a shop where she identifies Anubis and several others. Left to her own devices, she would have bought them all. It’s a learning moment, I decide. I drag Malu outside.
“You can’t just pay what they ask for,” I say. “You have to bargain. And lucky for you, I’m going to give you a lesson in bargaining right now. I come from a long line of bargainers. Your grandmother was an expert, as was mine.”
By this time, a small crowd has gathered – by which I mean my elder daughter, Ranju, 15, and my husband. Bargaining is like a dance, I explain. The point isn’t to actually purchase an object. It’s to have a good time. The best bargainers are always ready to walk away. The worst thing you can do is let the merchant know how much you want his product. My girls listen quietly without asking many questions. I should have registered that as a bad sign. My children always ask questions.
We choose a small shop with a young salesman to practise our skills. “Stand your ground and do not appear too eager,” I whisper before going in. We browse around the shop, picking up small bronze mummies, sandstone pyramids with hieroglyphic writing on top and beaded jewellery. We each pick up one object and walk to the cashier. First, it’s Ranju’s turn to bargain.
Rather than watch the pain of her negotiation, my husband and I decide to wait outside. We surreptitiously watch her talk animatedly to the cashier. A few minutes later, Ranju emerges with a big smile. “He gave me 15 per cent off on each item,” she says.
“What did you do?” I ask.
“I told him that the objects were for my dying great-grandmother,” she says.
I’m appalled. Not because she had invoked the name of my already-dead grandmother or because she had lied, but because she had not tried hard enough. If she had walked away, he would have reduced the price more.
Next comes Malu’s turn. She too does something similar. Basically, she lies. She tells the shop assistant that she’s buying the objects for a school project. He gives her 10 per cent off, on top of a 50 per cent sale price. “I did threaten to walk away,” says Malu when she sees my frown.
It has been a couple of years since our trip to Egypt now, but every time my girls see the tiny sandstone pyramid or the bronze mummy, they smile. “Were not we great bargainers?” they ask. I smile. I don’t tell them that they weren’t. Not according to my high standards anyway.
Source: art & life