The Negotiatorby Brendon Bosworth / 07.05.2009
R25.95. Too expensive for four salmon fishcakes is what I’m thinking. Sell-buy date is today. Got to warrant some type of discount. The woman at the Woolworth’s check-out is all smiles and Pantene sheen as she sees me coming.
“Good-day sir, need a bag?”
“I’ll give you R20,” I wave the brown elephant to entice her, making that sucker dance.
“25.95 sir,” she corrects me.
“I’ve got R20, c’mon. That’s too much for four fishcakes. I could make these at home for ten bucks.”
She stares at me like I’m a day-glo unicorn with a dildo for a horn. “The price is R25.95. That’s what it costs.”
“C’mon, c’mon, I’ll give you a good price. R20. Special price for you.” I hold the note to my nose and sniff it, to remind her how good twenty sheckles smells.
“If you don’t have the money, you can’t have these.”
“Twenty. You’re happy; I’m happy. I go home.”
She’s having none of it. Places the fishcakes on the counter behind her. “Do I need to call security?”
“It’s cool, I don’t actually want them.”
I’m using my reverse psychology make ‘em beg for it manoeuvre. She’ll come running anytime now, guaranteed.
The exit’s getting closer and still no sign of her. I cast my eyes back and see her laughing with the next customer, making little circle signs with her hands around her ears. Obviously didn’t need it bad enough. No stress, I’ll try the next store.
We’re dupes for the fixed-price system. Those digits on the price tag may as well be etched into slate. Monkey see; monkey pay. In the Far and Middle East, Asia, much of Africa, it’s all about bargaining ‘til the price is right. Walk into a store in Morocco and find yourself befuddled by the lack of price tags. Not a dirham sign in sight.
How much for this? Doesn’t matter if you’re asking for a bag of potatoes, a box of tampons or a hand-woven carpet, the first number the cashier spits out is going to be negotiable. Act dismayed; think about your closest friend being mauled by a pack of hungry Orcas; look offended, like the guy just called your mother a syphilis riddled whore. Offer him a few dirhams less. Go in low, wait for him to raise it, don’t get fisted. It could take five minutes; could take an hour. Depends on what you’re buying; how tight you are, and the rigidity of your breaking point.
It’s a grand way to do business – empowering for the customer and the retailer. If you’re savvy you don’t get shafted (too badly) and at least you feel like you’ve got ownership of the deal. The seller still gets his tom, even if he acts like you just stole his family fortune from the urn under his bed.
But after a month of haggling for everything from cotton socks to sleeping arrangements, there are times when you wish you could stroll into a store and see that familiar price board. Just so everyone knows where the hell they stand.