Friday, July 25, 2008

Good price for you my friend

Shopping in Jaipur was an educational experience. From now on, I will remember this mantra: Listen to the book, not the people. It was what Lauren and Chris, my nice new friends from Atlanta, had told me about getting through the railway station in Delhi, but it turned out to be exactly true for shopping. In Jaipur, I found it safe to assume that almost everyone was trying to rip me off, no matter how nice they seemed. My New York bullshit meter came in handy.

Lauren, Chris and I set off with a young autorickshaw driver they had met who spoke excellent English and was highly entertaining.

We offered him a reasonable price to take us around for the day. I was a little suspicious when he said "Money doesn't matter." That is never, ever true.
From reading my guidebook, I had a list of stores I wanted to visit to check prices. There were several stores that are cooperatives and offer good working conditions, health benefits and a living wage in their factories. There was also a government emporium containing a wide variety of goods at reasonable prices. After I had seen those prices, I wanted to check out the market, where we would have to bargain.

Our autorickshaw driver was opposed to this at every turn, and although he was consistently nice and entertaining, I became increasingly suspicious. At every stop he would tell us, yet again, that he knew of a place on the outskirts of town which is where they make the goods and they will give us the wholesale local price and we can see the factory and blah blah blah. I, for one, have no interest in seeing the woodblock print factory (it sounds like one of those boring trips you take in elementary school), and I have no illusions that I will ever get the local price for anything.

I insisted on my itinerary, increasingly firm about my agenda. The driver started to joke with me, realizing that I was the major barrier in his game (Chris and Lauren are Very Nice people. I am not). He tried to tell us that the government emporium was private and extremely expensive. He toed the line of insulting me, saying I must be very rich to afford such inflated prices. I told him that I couldn't afford swindlers. And I smiled.

The government emporium was not private, and in fact had very reasonable prices and quality goods. I ended up buying a sari for the wedding (in colors I never imagined I would wear without Mom forcing me) and Chris and Lauren bought woodblock prints. I had also bought a couple of things in the other stores, so that anything from the market was extra, and I could walk away from a bad bargain.

We then went to the market, where there are cramped dark stalls lined up, packed with goods. Stalls had either clothing, jewellery or shoes. (The stalls for other things are in different areas.) I found it to me much less intense than market shopping in Kenya, where they hassle you until you have a meltdown, coming closer and closer and getting louder and louder, and they follow you when you walk away. They hassle you some in Jaipur, but after 2 or 3 tries, if you ignore them, they quiet down and mostly just hold random items up or hover. If you have a strong will, and some might say I do, you can just look at the things you want and ignore the distraction easily. I liked some of the cheap sandals, but they wanted exorbitant prices. What would have been probably 10 or 20 rupees for a local, I offered 100 rupees and they wanted 450. Fuhgettaboudit.

One young tout approached me and, completely unprompted, said "Hola, que tal?" I thought that was so funny that he followed us around, popping up periodically to say something else in Spanish. I decided to lie to people when people in stores or on the street asked personal information, so I told them I was from Mexico, and Chris and Lauren lied for me as well. At one point, everyone in one stall started speaking to us in Spanish, and the next stall overheard and, as we passed, shouted to us in Spanish, and the next stall, and the next. For about 7 stalls in a row, we got spoken to only in Spanish, without saying a word. Chris tried to explain that he was American, but to no avail.

Another young boy spoke to me in Spanish, and said he knew many languages. So I said "Parlez-vous francais?" Which he didn't. Then I said "Ich bin ein Berliner." Which just left him dumbfounded. Good thing he didn't actually speak either of those, or he would have called my bluff.

Our driver waited patiently, although gave Chris some guilt about wanting to go to his special place, but I had no guilt. In the end I got a couple of things, but I had gotten more in the stores, where the quality was much better and there was no hassle. I wish I had gotten more in the stores. The reality is that we couldn't get better prices in the market because we are tourists, and they will never sell to a tourist for a reasonable price, even with hard bargaining.

Finally we humored the driver - it was already dark at this point - and headed off to wherever he was talking about. He stopped outside of a store, and we were invited in, took off our shoes and sat down. The proprietor started in on a long speech about factory blah blah, and offered us water, tea, juice, soda "and please do not ask for 'no thank you' because we do not have that." My bullshit meter went through the roof. Thankfully the factory was closed, and we didn't have to sit through that. But I wasn't in the mood for the speech, so I kept interrupting him to tell him that we only had a few minutes, and then made a big scene about moving my shoes around so I could see them at all times. At least it threw him off guard a little. So we sat as they pulled out beautiful bedcovers, cloths, woodblock prints. Finally they got to the cheapest one, and Chris asked how much, and they offered it for the low, low price of 1400 rupees. We had just seen the same things in the government emporium for 100-300 rupees. At that point I was just highly amused and ready to go. But Chris and Lauren, being Very Nice people, couldn't extract themselves from the guy's unending sales speech. Being Not Very Nice, I walked away.

We ended the day with dinner and beer at a rooftop restaurant, happy with our purchases and now much, much wiser.

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