If you come from a Western nation you are not going to be prepared for street markets in
, or presumably elsewhere in the Arab world. We are accustomed to price tags, and receiving change, and clerks that wait passively behind a counter for you to deliberate on your selections. Egypt
|Entrance to the street market in Aswan|
you will not do well. Most visitors end up buying things they really don’t want, and paying far too much for them. Alternatively some people end up being needlessly rude and tarnishing the image of their country. Let’s just not do these things. Egypt
|Really, nothing says hyper capitalism like the name of a dead Communist revolutionary|
The merchants in Egyptian bazaars are amazingly aggressive, impressively poly lingual, and masters of psychology. You are no match for them.
So we have to even the odds a little.
Learn a few basic phrases*. If you are being pestered to the periphery of physical intimidation then the hawker has gone too far. Look right at them and say “La, shadeerkey” This means “no my friend”. ( I will only use phonetic spelling.)
Now the merchant is wondering if perhaps you are not a total patsy. Maybe, as we would say here in the States, you did not just fall off the turnip truck.
Another useful word, as I mentioned yesterday, is “bokrah”. Along with a slight wave of the hand it suggests you might come back tomorrow. With a sub text of “not very likely”.
But appearing to speak a little of the local language poses problems of its own, some of the merchants will start asking you questions in that language, and my supply of Arabic is depleted all too quickly. So my son and I adopted a different strategy.
First, and this is always a good idea when traveling, we wore absolutely generic clothing. Do not give anyone a clue as to your nationality. There are different sales tactics for Americans, Brits, and French. I think the Egyptians have pretty much given up on the Germans.
|Incognito in Giza|
As you slowly walk by the stalls you will be addressed in English. Show no sign of comprehension. Next up is French. Still nothing. By this time the merchant is guessing away…Irish? Dutch? Russian? No reply. We would always look daggers at them and mutter a little if they guessed Belgian, but that was our inside joke.
If they have no language in common with you their advantage has been much reduced. Often as not we would just keep strolling, but sometimes there were actually some wares of interest. I would look at my son and say “Warzazeek”. This is the last name of some friends of ours, and was our pre-arranged signal to stop and browse. We had a few other phrases that meant things too, one for let’s move on, another for laugh out loud for no apparent reason. In each case the words sounded vaguely Eastern European, and were liberally admixed with glottal gibberish and what little I know of Klingon from being a serious Star Trek fan.**
The salespeople did not know what to make of us.
On the uncommon occasions where we actually might buy something I would look straight at the proprietor and say “Anna min Tegwar”. This means “I come from Tegwar”.***
Faced with somebody whose primary tongue is the mythical “Tegwari” and who seems able to speak and understand a little Arabic, the merchant just prattles on and mostly pantomimes things.
We, being guys and all, were not actually all that interested in buying stuff, but a few souvenirs for the folks back home were called for. In these instances I would once again look the street merchant in the eye and say, rather poorly, “Ich can auch ein bischen Deutch sprechen”. (My German is actually not bad, but I tried to dumb it down a little in keeping with my role as a possible diplomat from a backwater Central Asian republic).
At this point actual negotiations can take place. I figure we get a little latitude on prices because the reputation of Tegwarians for thrift and bluntness is unknown, and that of the Germans is already past redemption.
So in the end we probably paid only two or three times what we should have as opposed to the four or five times real price that most Americans have to settle for.