The Middle East @ Work

Let’s Make a Deal…

Meaw Mar 4, 2008

In Cairo, negotiating is an age-old art form. And it’s actually a lot of fun once you catch the spirit of it.

I spent a few hours at the Khan al-Khalili market. It’s a narrow cobblestone street full of shops where tourists can buy souvenirs, spices, even gold. It’s been around for about 600 years. As you walk along, the merchants will try to physically steer you into their shops or least barrage you with sales pitches. You want some jewelry? A mini-Sphinx? Nefertiti? Or my favorite, “How can I take your money??? I’ll give you good Egyptian price.”

Trust me, you don’t want to pay the Egyptian price. If they say 100 pounds (20 dollars), it’s probably a 100 percent mark up. If you don’t say anything and just walk away, the price immediately drops 20 pounds. But if it’s something you want, start the bidding. So you might say, 30 pounds. 70? No, 40. 60? No, 50. Okay, deal.

I noticed a lot of the shops had the exact same trinkets. Hmmm. Now, why would that be? Turns out it’s because many of these ancient Egyptian artifacts are … GASP… made in China. One guy told me 80 percent of his stuff was made by Chinese workers. He told me it’s much, much cheaper for him. He said something like, why should I work hard selling higher-priced Egyptian items when I can make easy money? “Americans buy the China things.”

Well, not all Americans. I set out to find the real deal. At the next shop I visited, I picked up a little statue and took a peek at the bottom. There was a “made in China” sticker on it. Good grief.

So, I asked the guy where this thing was made. In Egypt, of course, he said. Oh really, where? We have many factories in this area. Okay, then why does it say made in China on it? He was obviously flustered and gave me some answer about the government. He said, “You understand?” No, I don’t. I said, “You’re lying, aren’t you? After a pause, he laughed and admitted it was made in China. Then, he gave me a high five for busting him.

These people are real characters.

I finally found a merchant who swore up and down all his stuff was made in Egypt. His things did seem sturdier. They were at least made of stone and not some form of plastic that would change colors on the plane ride home.
I bought a couple souvenirs from him, but I still don’t know for sure what I ended up with. I did have fun negotiating with him.

So at least, the price was right.

Scott Jagow

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