me in the ME

the semester of fun, sun, and Arabic

It Happens- the Art of Getting Ripped Off

I put off buying things here for a long time and now I’m scrambling to get things before I leave on Friday morning. It has somehow come to that time without even realizing it. As I buy gifts though, I start to remember something- I’m really bad at haggling. Like really bad. When I was in China, most of the time I had one of my guy friends do my haggling for me .Even though everything was so cheap there, it’s likewise so necessary to haggle to get closer to a real price. I have a bad tendency to just accept the price given as the price to be paid because haggling just isn’t a thing in the States! For sure though, I’m better off here because the only Chinese I knew was “Hi.”, “How are you?”, and “Too expensive!” In theory then, I should be able to get a better deal.

What actually happens is that a lot of the time I don’t end up buying anything. I recognize that 20JD is far too much for a scarf, no matter that it’s being sold at a more upscale souq or that it’s beautiful. No way am I going to pay that. So I just sigh sadly and move on. Most of the time shopkeepers don’t get the hint that I would pay something a bit less for it. Maybe I’m too subtle?

Other times, when I do try to haggle, I don’t go nearly low enough. I get that as a foreigner you feel free to jack prices way up, but man I didn’t know how much. A lot of the time I won’t know how much something is worth but I won’t pay 6JD for earrings when a couple stalls down earrings are only 1JD. I don’t want to say a price so low as to offend someone but goodness! Thinking back now to China, I really don’t know if I did get any good prices. In one specific instance I just needed to have this jade horse sculpture. It was supposed to be a gift for my uncles (sorry guys!) but in the end I kept it because I loved it so much. I went around the shop and tried haggling with the woman on two different occasions. Fairly certain she didn’t recognize me the second time around since she gave a completely different price- different from what we had haggled down to and I had found unacceptable and different from what she had originally quoted me. I think it might have actually been higher. So we went at it again. I’m not sure what we originally settled on but it probably wasn’t a fair price. Maybe a fair foreigner price, but that’s a big maybe. I was a 15-year old romping around the Great Wall with maybe 100 other People-to-People ambassadors. I’m sure we were a gold mine.

And you know what? Sometimes I don’t mind being that goldmine. Their standard of living is so much lower than mine so even if I’m a poor college student in the U.S., my situation is far better than theirs. My heart goes out to the elderly shopkeepers because they look like they really need the money and not as if they’re just trying to rip me off since I’m a foreigner. If people will pay a certain price, I don’t blame shopkeepers for trying to charge it because their situation is so much more desperate than mine. So sometimes, I pay up and don’t give too much of a fuss.

When I live in a place though, it gets old after a while. If I need to catch a taxi back from City Mall or Rainbow Street, it’s a consistent problem that taxi drivers may try to charge me 5JD for a 1JD cab ride, or turn off the meter once we’ve left the immediate area, or demand more than what is owed. My limited Arabic is certainly better than no Arabic at all. I have no idea how people who don’t know Arabic get around without getting ripped off.

After I took a pony ride at Petra, the owner asked for double the price because he had run as well. I felt really proud of myself and invigorated because I was able to defend myself in Arabic and won the argument. But I felt bad when I thought about it afterward because his situation isn’t great, having to live off of tourists and being outside all day. It’s certainly not very stimulating but it brings the money home. That’s one of the big things I took away from Petra- there’s a lot of desperate need there.

As we were exploring Petra, a shopkeeper called out, “Come, and have a cold drink! Eat!” Per usual, we continued on walking, trained to ignore anyone that calls out to us, whether they be legitimate or wolf whistles. But then he added, “This is why you’re here- to help the local people.” That statement really took me aback and I remember saying to myself, “No, I’m here to see PETRA.” Which is the truth. My one and only goal in coming to Petra was to see the ruins and be in awe. Helping out the local community at the time with my business? That’s an added bonus, but definitely not the reason I came.

So in the next few days, I’ll be buying more gifts. It’ll be interesting, trying to balance getting a fair price without robbing people blind. I doubt I’ll get any good deals and I’ve accepted that because things are still cheaper here than at home. But we’ll see how it goes.


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