Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dilli Haat and the Bargaining Dilettant

Sarah is a shopping Goddess – I’m sure she has been added to the Hindu pantheon by now. Just look for the statue of a petite vivacious blonde deity carrying packs of scarves and bangles. I think she single-handedly brought the idea of discounts for buying-in-bulk to the markets of India by grabbing handfuls of figurines, showing them to the merchants and saying through an enormous smile: "I'm getting all of these, so I think you should give me a special price." Sarah is one of the ladies on the trip, the CEO of a non-profit fundraising company where she professionally persuades people to donate their money and feel good about it. She is one of those rare people who can make everyone fall in love with her without trying. These, incidentally, are great skills for bargaining.

I first saw her in action while trying out my own haggling skills at Dilli Haat, an open air market in the middle of Delhi. For my part, I fought hard for my silver bangles, eight scarves, silver cobra arm band (that I fully intend to wear, someday), and two anklets with matching necklaces for my little sisters. However, the fact that I failed to record the price paid in my travel journal suggests that I was too embarrassed to write down the hard numerical truth. I’m sure everyone who leaves Dilli Haat market fancies themselves a good bargainer. After all, the salesmen look so pained if you manage to haggle them down by a few rupees. But, I am pretty certain that we all got fleeced. Except, very possibly, for Sarah.
Sarah had the right perspective on haggling. She knew that she would get the tourist price, but I think she enjoyed the challenge of seeing how far she could whittle it down. In the end, it was all about whether she enjoyed her time and was happy with the price she paid.
Dilli Haat allows for maximum haggling enjoyment. The small entrance fee keeps out beggars and pickpockets, making the place disarmingly deserted. It’s a nice place to walk around; It’s what you picture India will be like before you get there.
Tourists like to test the bargaining waters at Dilli Haat and I saw a number of Europeans wandering around. European and Australian tourists in India all have this dust-covered, unwashed, tan-faced, chic look. They look worldly. They look like Lawrence of Arabia or Lara Croft. They look sexy. I was jealous. It’s enough to make a girl go out and buy khakis and a tight shirt, and then roll in the dirt (that seems to be the dress code).
After scarf number six, I tried to stop buying. But when I was beckoned by a scarf seller who was my age, cute, and spoke fluent English – I stopped trying.
He showed me scarves that were entirely hand-stitched, with stitching so fine that the design looked printed on them from only two feet away. He told me his own grandmother worked on one for eleven months, but they usually take nine months to complete. I also learned that he liked “Obama better than Boosh.” He was so much fun to talk to, and I could tell he was enjoying himself also. I told him where I was from, he told me about his family business making textiles and running the stall. What struck me most was how intelligent, articulate and confident he was, in a totally Westernized way. He reminded me a little of one of my cousins actually, something about his casual-cool.
But, when it was time for bargaining, I got down to business. He asked what I paid for the other scarves I bought, and I happily told him a price that was a few hundred rupees less than I actually paid. I sheepishly told him that I probably paid too much for them, silly tourist that I am. So he offered 300 rupees below the price I quoted. This may seem shady, it may look like lying, but believe me all is fair in haggling. Don’t worry, he still made a profit. It’s like gambling in Vegas: The house always wins, but it’s still a lot of fun.

*I found this excellent article on how to haggle - so if you want to know how to do it, click Here.

1 comment:

Cyn said...

I really enjoyed this, LV. Your writing is informative, interesting, colorful, and quite funny! I love it.