November 2011, my brother went to Afghanistan for a year. Almost immediately, he sent back stories of the people, the landscape, and his fellow military members. I recalled one of those stories after we sold a significant portion of our belongings last weekend in a two-day garage sale.
We set up our makeshift store in frigid temperatures and snow, and even gave away big-ticket items for nothing, simply because we’re limited on space in the moving trucks, and the new digs won’t accommodate all that stuff. We sold a lot more than one might think, for a garage sale in February. In the end, we were given a pittance for the remaining lot, which contained items that were, in themselves, worth many times more than the total we finally accepted.
Despite knowing those things had to go anyway, there’s still a part of me that feels cheated. A businessman played on our desperation, and we — knowing full well what was happening — allowed it.
We were a lot easier targets than the Afghan shopkeeper my brother watched negotiate with a customer, and even that tough-bargaining carpet shop owner was taken for a relatively paltry sum:
Shop Owner: “What you like?”
Customer: “I don’t remember what I bought last time. I don’t want to get the same thing.”
Shop Owner: “You bought these.” He shows the customer a few rugs.
Customer: “Yeah, but I don’t remember what color.”
Shop Owner: “You bought blue one.” He proceeds to lay out for display five rugs.
After a bit more discussion, the customer asks what kind of deal he can get for all five. The shop owner asks what he is willing to pay.
Customer: “How about everything in my wallet.”
Shop Owner: “Yes. I take everything in your wallet.”
The customer only has 11,000 Afghani (about $220) in his wallet.
Negotiations continue and another rug is added to the deal. When it seems a deal is about to be struck, the customer starts changing his mind on which rugs he wants.
After changing out two rugs without any resistance, the customer wants to trade a small prayer rug for a 14-foot-long runner. This starts a new round of price negotiations.
Again, right as a deal appears to be imminent, the customer asks, “What is the bonus?”
The shop owner is bewildered.
The customer states, “Six plus one, the plus one is the bonus.”
The shop owner concedes and throws in a small prayer rug.
The customer bought seven carpets for $685. He paid 10,000 Afghani immediately, and took possession of all of the rugs, agreeing to return the following week to pay the balance.
During the course of negotiations, the shop owner said “Oh, my God!” on five separate occasions. (The shop owner is Muslim.) Near the end of negotiations the shop owner tells the customer, “Next time you come, you bring knife.”
Customer asks, “Why is that?”
The shop owner replies, “Because you killing me!”