I am not a haggler. I’ve been lectured by traveling companions, so I know all the arguments: they expect it, the prices are deliberately inflated, if you don’t do it the next tourist will get even more ripped off. I know, I know — but I still get terrible fluttery feelings in my stomach when I have to do it, and I know I’m terrible at it. My poker face and nonchalant shrug need work.
It is with a resigned feeling of apprehension, then, that I find myself in the small-appliances dukan looking for a laundry rack. It has been a long day of shopping occasioned by my move to a new home, and a helpful fellow volunteer and I are laden down with odd purchases like bulky blankets and a mattress. Clearly not tourists, in other words, or so you’d think. So when we rouse the little old man from his contemplative reverie at the front of his store, we are prepared for the odd glance he gives us.
“Welcome,” he says, in English.
“Salaam,” I answer. Then I point to the laundry rack in question and say, in Arabic, “How much is this one?”
“Ah,” the old man says, gravely, still doggedly in English. “This one is very good quality. Italian-made. Fifteen dinar.”
Having budgeted about ten, I take a deep breath and say, with my best attempt at incredulity: “Fifteen dinar?”
“Yes. But this one –” Here the old man brightens significantly and pats a nearby ironing board. “This one is only ten dinar! Jordanian. But still very good quality.”
I shake my head. No, I do not want the ironing board. Is he sure the drying rack is fifteen?
“Yes, Italian, excellent quality metal. Absolutely no less than twelve dinar. But look, this ironing board, equally excellent metal. Only eight dinar! Such a good deal!” He positively beams with glee, stroking the ironing board’s shrink wrap.
Confused, I try again. I am not interested in the ironing board, I try to convey. I simply want to know how much he will take for the drying rack. Fifteen seems a bit much, but —
“No, of course, it’s slightly more expensive. I have to ask ten for it, because it’s Italian, you see. But this one!” Again with the ironing board. “Jordanian, but such excellent quality! And only six dinar! Really a better deal than the Italian one!”
I am startled. With no effort whatsoever on my part, the old man has haggled himself down to the price I was prepared to pay. And from all appearances I’m about ten seconds away from getting a free ironing board thrown into the deal! I indicate that I really do prefer the Italian drying rack, as lovely as the Jordanian ironing board may be. “So, ten dinar for the rack?” I ask, more or less rhetorically, as I reach for a ten-dinar bill.
A look of puzzlement shades the old man’s face. “No, no,” he says. “That one, it’s Italian, so it’s very beautiful, but it’s eight dinar. This one — just look! — just as beautiful. And Jordanian! And only four dinar!” He practically hugs the ironing board in his enthusiasm.
I do my best to deal with the situation with appropriate gravity. I’m really sorry, I say. The ironing board is, indeed, one of the finest specimens of workmanship I’ve seen in a long while. But, in the end, I’m a crazy American and I really would just prefer the Italian drying rack.
The old man sighs, and gives the ironing board one last loving pat before he counts out my change. He drags my new drying rack away from the wall and shrugs, as if to say there’s no accounting for taste! Then he gives us a dignified nod, and resumes his spot on his stool, watching the world go by.