Have you ever had to bargain for something? You know, go toe-to-toe with the shopkeeper and battle down the price. Not everyone can do it and some even hate it. It happened to me recently in St. Martin when I bought a coffee maker. I used to hate bargaining but now I’m rather good at it. Mind you, I did learn from the experts in the souqs of Morocco and the Middle East.
It began when I bought a camel.
This wasn’t your ordinary run-of the-mill camel but a wooden camel. I bought it in the souq in Jerusalem as a gift for my mum. It was the first time I had ever bargained for anything and, er … I got way more than I bargained for.
The camel, about four inches high, was one of many on display outside the shop. I was nervous about doing the deal and the old Arab shopkeeper didn’t help when he addressed me in several different languages before he hit on the right one, English. That settled we got down to the bargaining.
“How much for the camel?” I asked.
“How much do you want to give me?”
“I don’t know.”
He smiled and opened his arms. “Welcome to my humble emporium,” he said.
The bargaining went on for about half-an-hour. During negotiations strong coffee was served and the price came down from $50 to $10.
Ah-ah, bargain, thinks I, and left the store with my prize.
Outside, I showed the camel to a friend who was looking for a similar gift for his sister. “Your camel’s got a flat head,” he said. And sure enough, it had. The wood carver’s chisel had slipped and the thing was a reject.
The old Arab welcomed me back into his store with open arms but before he could speak, I said, “The camel you sold me has got a flat head.”
“Ah … you mean the camel you bought has a flat head.”
“Well, yes,” I said, “could you exchange it?”
“We don’t do exchange, but I’ll buy it back. How much do you want?”
“Ten dollars,” I said.
He offered me 50 cents.
And that’s how I bought a wooden camel for ten dollars, sold it for five and ended up owning two more for which I paid 14 dollars each. To this day, I don’t know what happened.