Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coffeegirl, Come On Down...

[what's brewing: a showcase showdown]

I’ve always loved watching game shows, and I was particularly excited when computer based versions came out and I could compete against my siblings on Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. I’m a fairly competitive person and take all games very seriously. I even compete against myself to make everyday situations more interesting.

It is therefore no surprise that I have created my own version of The Price is Right here in my new city. Take away the lights, the glitter, the blonde assistants and the iconic host, and you’re left with a fairly accurate depiction of my market experiences. It took me awhile to realize this, but now that I have, shopping is much more interesting for me.

As the next contestant in the competition, I exit my taxi and put my game face on – a far more serious and calm game face than the screaming, jumping, arm waving contestants that step up to compete on the game show. The settings couldn’t be more different, but the task is the same: determine the correct price of a common household item.

While surveying the item I wish to purchase, I am mentally trying to determine the correct price for the item. Knowing that my version of the game will most likely go on for several rounds, I survey the item and try to determine not only the correct price for the item, but what to expect for the initial asking price, which arguments will be most persuasive in convincing the shopkeeper to accept my bid, and finally, what price am I ultimately willing to pay even if I don’t believe it is the correct price.

There are several factors that affect the outcome of this game.

I am competing against:

-The color of my skin
-The assumption that I have money to spare
-My imperfect language skills that betray my confidence at times

However, I am supported by:

  • My better-than-average language skills for a foreigner in a marketplace, imperfect though they may be
  • Being able to demonstrate that I live here and am not just a tourist – this basic level of rapport usually drops the initial asking price by about 10 -20%
  • Having honest feedback to give about prices I’ve previously paid to use in my negotiations

I frequent many of the same vendors to start building relationships with them, but also to help eliminate some of the guess work. I love coming back time and again to the smiling faces of the market vendors and building relationships with them while the produce takes backseat to my concern and purpose for being there.

When shopping for gifts or searching for a new item however, I must start from scratch. Thinking of the experience as a version of The Price is Right truly helps me to shift my focus from the elements of discrimination I am competing against to the resources I have to support my performance.

Whether I “win” or “lose” based upon my initial estimations, my favorite part of the game is talking with my friend when she comes each Tuesday to help me clean and wax my floors. I pull out my recently purchased items and ask her what she thinks a fair price for each item would have been. After receiving her bid, I reveal the final price that I paid and we either celebrate together that my negotiations that surpassed even her expectations, or smile and shrug our shoulders, hoping for better luck next time.

I get such joy out of this – I love the sense of accomplishment when I know I’ve paid a good and fair price for something. I love the connection it allows me to build with my friend as we examine the quality and content of each item – two women from difficult cultures, connecting on a level that is almost inherently feminine. I invited her to come shopping with me one day and she said, “But it will ruin our game – I will know what you paid! I think I’ll get started and wait for you to come home. Good luck!”


Kristy said...

I love it! What a great game! I'll have to remind my husband the next time he complains about the "foreigner discount" we occasionally get (up to 30% higher). Shopping is certainly an adventure. Even living in a city where English is spoken by most people and a lot of the products have English translations, it still takes more time than running out to Publix in the states. I've tried to break it down to a science and picture the store in my head as I make my list so that I can remember that salsa is sold with the spaghetti sauce.

I consistently forget my dictionary and have to call a friend to ask, "what is nutmeg called?" Even though she is a native speaker, she can't always remember either and we have a good laugh. Smells are becoming important. I have to know the difference between coriander and italian parsley and another leafy herb that looks like them both.

It is great to have a place like this to share our common stories. Thanks!

Brenda said...

That was a great post! So true! Where I live now the bartering is not so bad, but in Peru it was a serious game. The worst was when I had to send my husband to the vegetable market, he would pay 3x as much!

Its just part of the adventure!

Anonymous said...

Hello Coffeegirl! I hope you are well.

The cultural nuances (not to be confused for one minute with nuisances) are so important for being treated as a vital member of society rather than a dollar bill with feet.

Market stories are fun. During my Saturday morning market trip I was making my rounds to my regular stands and an older lady begging was following me. Finally she tapped me on the elbow and looked up at my face with a toothy grin. She said to me, "Oh a girl with such pretty blue eyes must be kind!" She smiled so big I had to chuckle with her. Even my vendor friend was amused and we all had a laugh about it. Needless to say the sweet lady got some coins from me that day.


Regina and David said...

I love this post. It's soo funny and so relatable to most everyone living in another culture. Going to the market is always an adventure, sometimes enjoyable and sometimes not, but it's always a learning experience. :)

Alan & Beth McManus said...

I love the haggling game! I was rather disappointed when we moved here from Guatemala to find they don't haggle like there. It almost took the fun out of shopping. Then, I found out that here you don't haggle with words, you do it with body language. Don't look really interested or the price goes up! Act like you've decided against it and walk away. They will call you back with a better deal. If you vacillate even then, the price may go down more. It's fun to play psychologist!

Becky Aguirre said...

I am SO not good with the bargaining! :( Not sure why, but it's distressing and I end up either not getting what I want or paying more and then feeling like I got "taken"...Miguel is so much better at it than I am! Yeah, here they don't really bargain that much, although maybe in the open market or at the bazaars (street vendors/garage sales?) they do more (we don't usually shop there).

That's funny about the guessing game back home with your friend! :) She must enjoy that...and I remember in Colombia gowing up once we had a house with red tile floors. It was one of the only times we had to hire someone to come help with the floors because they had to be cleaned, waxed, and buffed regularly and it was SO much work (we were all trying to homeschool at the time...).

Cindy said...

What a great post!
I will remember this the next time I am in the market, thank you...

Still chuckling....

Shilo said...

What a great idea! I love what your friend said! Too cute!

Sanyu said...

I also like the bargaining games. Living in a place where my skin color means I am expected to pay higher prices, I have felt a sense of accomplishment when I find that I am for the most part paying the same price as the nationals for most things. This seems to be most especially true when I shop at the same places over and over again. I think they also find it less fun to "extort" money from a "local"

Chantelle said...

I go to the local rough market several times a week. We dont have supermarket stores. I wish somedays! I usually take my househelp Rebecca with me since she speaks the trade language and knows prices. And i have learned to joke and laugh around too and not be offended by the "white mans" prices!

junglewife said...

Great analogy - I LOVE The Price is Right! In fact, my husband and I sometimes play little "Price is right" game between ourselves, trying to guess prices of things... :-)

I used to be pretty good at bargaining in the market in Ecuador. It was SO much fun when we'd have friends come and visit, and we'd take them out to the touristy places, and I'd hear the vendors talking about how they could get lots of money out of us, and then I'd start bargaining with them :-) We don't bargain as much here... In some ways I like it because it takes a lot of the hassle of out of shopping, but in other ways... I'm pretty good at bargaining myself a good deal if I have to!!!


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