Prices are enticing in Egypt, especially since their pound devalued, doubling the power of the U.S. dollar to nearly 18 pounds per dollar. I looked forward to scoring bunches of bargain Christmas gifts when we visited the souq. My chance came at last in Luxor, and I ventured out from under our guide’s protective wing for an hour.
It was seriously intimidating. Vendors swarm the path and shout “shirts, scarves, camels, no hassle, just browsing, have a look, everything free, where you from?” I can not shop with all that going on. I walked several blocks to the end of the street without daring to stop to look at anything. On the way back I saw a dress that was worth asking a price for. A polite man with icky teeth carried on about the quality of the cotton: “Touch this, now touch this, I have another I want to show you inside, I am Nubian, we aren’t pushy…”
The electricity was out in all the shops and I wasn’t up for going into a dark shop with him to touch dresses. “I want to talk about this dress. How much?”
He finally came out with the price. I took our guide’s advice and low-balled. The Nubian smiled and said he liked me, but he had to make a little profit. It went on and on. I turned to leave two or three times and finally paid half his original price because it was his “first sale of the day.”
Negotiating was stressful. I didn’t know the rules of the game, and it’s an edgy game in our culture. Also converting pounds to dollars in the heat of battle muddled my brain. I worried that I’d played the fool because, from what our guide had told us, I didn’t really get a good price. And yet, when I got back to the group, told my story, and had my dress admired, I felt like I’d had a good time.
Given another couple weeks of heavy haggling, I might have wrapped up Christmas for a song…