Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lies My Carpet Seller Told Me

So far on this trip we have encountered a number of folk who have lied to us but lacked any cannie-ness in doing so. The first lie involved a cabal of waiters at a restaurant in Naples who were running a mafia style system of service. I can only conclude that certain waiters resembled in status, the lesser families of the mafia, say a Tessio, and other waiters a Don Corleone figure in the hierachy of staff.

At the end of one meal, Don Michael Corleone, let us call him, an older figure who intimidated the lesser staff forcing them to say, give us the menu, reserving service and tip time for him, gave us the bill and said "Service is not included".

C and I looked at the bill. "Why then" she asked, "Does it expressly say 'service of 13% is included in the bill?

He looked trapped. "Umm...eet eesse for the chef, for him to cook"

C looked at him "We tip the chef for cooking for us?" she replied in disbelief. But she gave him some cheap tip anyway so not sure the point in asking. I was just worried that if we didn't I'd find a horse's head in my dinner the next time we ate there.

Then there was the carpet sellers of Kairouan. It is the fourth holiest city in Islam. It is also famous for its carpet making.

We hired Sofine, a guy at the hotel, to secretly guide us there as the hotel owner didn't like anyone cutting into his tourist business run out of the hotel which always started "journeys" at 5 am. We elected to get Sofine to take us at a more civilized 10 am.

I had hoped by paying Sofine a great deal of money privately, we wouldn't have to endure being forced to be taken through shop after shop in order to buy things to help pay Sofine a commission.

But it was not to be so.

C and I are old hands at carpet buying having been held against our will in countless carpet shops in Mororcco, parts of Turkey and the famed Medina in Istanbul. This involves a friendly man saying "just look" to which you go in feeling guilty and by the time the mint tea is out, you will never escape unless you buy something.

I actually don't mind it as I enjoy haggling and am quite good at it. My natural cheapness gives me a fantastic poker face as no matter how much I like the goods I really doubt whether I should spend any money on such a luxury at all. Thus down comes the price.

C however hates it when I haggle and is embarassed. She invariably pays full asking price for anything making her the equivalent of a fatted lamb for a wolf.

Once in Guatemala, in a Mayan market I left for 5 minutes to go to the bank only to find C in the centre of a knot of Mayan women, all draped in weavings having agreed to purchase the lot.

Now at the grave of a companion of the Prophet, C lagged behind Sofine and I for less than a minute. "Where is the vegetarian?" he asked, the disparaging name he coined for her. I went searching only to find her pleading for help. She was adorned in trinket necklaces placed on her neck by sellers who in turn demanded I pay them 10Dinar.

After seeing the mosque and the grave, Sofine suddenly made a quick turn into, you guessed it, a bloody carpet shop, for a "little demonstration" as the owner put it.

A few seconds later out came the damn tea and we were doomed. Carpet after carpet appeared and all the symbolism was explained, the quality established and the pressure started.

I think it might be easier to make it out of Houdini's famous upside down, manaceled water tank than a carpet store. So out came my face and down went the price.

I was tired. I didn't want to haggle and C was glaring at me for simply "not responding" to the salesman.

So we bought yet another carpet.

Then came the money issue. I tried to pay debit having left my credit card in the hotel safe. When that didnt work the owner said we could easily walk to the Medina to go to the bank machine and he started to frog march me in that direction.

To go there meant certain entrapment.

All his friends sat in the Medina waiting for me to just go in and "take a look". I instead elected to take all the day's money out, including payment for Sofine, and buy the carpet there and then.

Then came another lie: "In Tunisia" the owner said "it is a custom that when we sell you something you give us a 20 dinar tip each, for the service we have done".

C burst out laughing. This was a new one. 'I pay you for you forcing me to buy something, from which you have profited already, that I never wanted in the first place.'

I opened my very empty wallet to show I had nothing for such a tip and actually shook it.

C on the other hand said "no no" but searched her pockets dutifully found her only bill, a 10 Dinar note, which she handed over to the seller and his assistant.


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