Haggling isn’t for beginners

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In which the columnist is unceremoniously asked to leave a store in Turkey.

Over the years I have been kicked out of a lot of establishments. From grimy nightclubs, to a KFC on Louis Botha Avenue, I have been politely and non-politely ejected from some of the least reputable places on earth. While my favourite story is much like all the others, in that the reason for my being asked to leave was my inability to keep my mouth shut, it is also different in that it’s the only time I have been kicked out of anything overseas.

My wife and I had been touring the Mediterranean on a yacht cruise and had just stopped in Turkey near the World Heritage site Ephesus. The dock was a tourist hub and as such the market place there was filled with small stores selling everything from Turkish delight to rugs, scarves, and more Turkish delight. Waiting for the bus that would take us to the site, we decided to browse and were soon standing in a store ruled over by a large, bushy-haired man whose eyes were like the Catholic rosary – extremely beady.

The store smelled of a heavy incense and was filled with hundreds of different scarves that hung from every available space on the racks, the windowsills and the counter and my wife was delighting in rummaging through them all. In no time at all, she had two in her hands and the owner quickly swooped in to close the deal. “Very nice. You have chosen some very nice ones,” he told her. “Those are 200 Lira each,” he said, proposing a staggering opening gambit absolutely no one could possibly fall for.

The scarves were pretty, but to my untrained eye didn’t appear to be good quality, and were clearly not worth the roughly R400 each he was asking for them.

“That’s a bit much,” I suggested somewhat timidly, “Surely they aren’t worth that?”

My wife, sensing trouble, moved away, leaving me to duel with the scarf salesman, who seemed to take my comment as a personal insult.

“These are the finest scarves available in Turkey,” he insisted.

“I don’t think they are,” I said, and so it went. Back and forth we jousted, always speaking quality and never once discussing price. Each time he spoke he upped his claims as to the excellence of his product until suddenly he, vein throbbing on his temple, blurted out, “Very good quality. Top quality. They are hand made in Turkey, by my own mother!”

“Does your mother live in Beijing?” I asked.

“No?! She is Turkish, why would you say such a thing?! Is she living in Beijing?!” he roared.

“‘Cause the sticker on it says ‘Made in China’.”

Standing outside a few minutes later, having been unceremoniously asked to leave, I couldn’t help, but feel like I had won. The scarf salesman had moved to pour his sales pitch over my wife who emerged a few minutes later empty-handed, a side-effect of the fact that I was the one carrying our money.

“Look, I knew they were from China,” she said as we walked away into the bazaar, “but they were also pretty.”

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