We took a trip into town yesterday. I was expecting a tourist trap but it was more like a slide soaked in salad oil with only one possible direction to be followed. I was flattered that they devoted ten blocks to siphoning my cents but I think the forty-five silver vendors could have been better managed.
About a dozen of us tourists disembarked from one van and I quickly discerned that our lack of tans were essentially targets for vendors. I was smart enough to ask the hotel concierge before we left where she would buy tequila. Everyone headed in the direction of the market of markup and we headed to Walmart. It was out of the way but if you want a feel for the culture Walmart is fairly unadulterated. We passed a few banks which each had guards with billy clubs loitering in front and I was pleased that someone’s money was safe. There was a cigar store inside Walmart so I entered and listened to the young man’s dreams of wealth and decided to not be a part of it. I could have flown to Cuba and back for less than what he imagined his torpedoes were worth. In my world money doesn’t necessarily mean moronity.
We headed back to the boulevard of bargaining to take another chance with cigars. The first establishment had three gentlemen out front hand rolling cigars. I bought the brochure and entered. I was checking out the prices and noticed a woman around the corner in the back doing exactly the same as the men in front. I was told I would receive a twenty percent savings if I bought a box which with quick calculation was twenty percent off a six hundred percent markup. “Buenos Dias” I said.
A fellow on the street was selling something similar and in a practised way pulled my wife and I to his display. He started talking in peso’s which scares me as I am unaccustomed to talking in thousands. “American dollars” I said. He started talking about one hundred dollars which was closer to my orbit. I said “no” as he rummaged through each of his different products handing me each with similar prices. “Listen, my friend, for you I can come down to seventy.” “No thanks” I said, though we were nearing reality. “Sixty” he said. “No.” “Listen, you work hard for your money” he said. I took a step back and glanced at my wife. I was afraid for this man. My wife is the breadwinner in our family and she jumped in and said “I am buying the cigars.” A little late he changed course and said to her, “you work hard for your money. I have a family, I work hard for my money, I have to travel to Cuba, I have to stand in the street.” I wanted to question him about Cuba but there was enough bullshit on the boulevard. He was now handing his boxes to my wife and I watched as she countered each of his maneuvers. I was in awe. Apparently, haggling has a history in China where she grew up.
We were slowly exiting the exchange and he asked her what her offer was. “You will be angry at my offer” she said. “No I will not be offended.” “Twenty dollars.” “Be reasonable” was his reply. “Twenty” she shot back. “The best I can do is fifty” he said. “Twenty” and she handed back the box once again. “Let me make my final offer; thirty-five.” “No, you keep your cigars and I will keep my money, that is fair.” His lip was quivering and he was the first local I noticed who was sweating. Long story short, my wife walked away with the cigars for twenty dollars. We paid him and his final plea was for a dollar for a Coke. He needed some kind of bargaining bandage as he was haemorrhaging from haggling with my wife so I bought him a Coke.
It was an education for me as I had never been part of haggling before. I found something else to admire in my wife and I should think he did as well.