Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To Barter or not to Barter?

When I think of classic personifications of Arabs and the Middle East, bartering always comes into the picture. It is part of life here but as more and more shopping centres spring up it is, in some ways, a dying art.

If you want to practice your bartering skills then a trip to a suq is needed, a glint in your eye and the desire for a bargain.

Edward T. Hall, the father of cross-cultural communication, discusses batering with such precision in his book, 'The Silent Language' (ISBN: 0-385-05549-8), I've decided to let him talk for this particular blog update:

“Negotiation, therefore, swings around a central pivot. Ignorance of the position of the pivot opens one up to the worst type of exploitation, as well as loss of face. It doesn’t matter whether it is a squash in the bazaar or a hydroelectric dam in the international market. The pattern remains constant. Above and below the central point there is a series of points which indicate what the two parties feel as they enter the field.

Here is how an Arab from Damascus described this process. The pivotal point was six pilasters, the price of squash on the day he describes. Above and below this there were four points. Any one of the top four might be the first price asked by the seller. Any one of the lower four represents the first offer made by the prospective buyer.

The hidden or implicit meaning of the code is given opposite each step on the scale below. This meaning is not exact, but represents a clue as to the attitudes of the two parties as they enter the bargaining process:

Seller’s asking prices
12 or more; complete ignorance on the part of the seller
10 An insult; arguments and fights ensure, seller doesn’t want to sell
8 Will sell; but let’s continue bargaining
7 Will sell; under the market value

6 The market price/ pivot

Buyer’s offering prices
5 Buyer really wants the squash; will pay over the market price
4 Buyer will buy
2 Arguments and fighting; buyer doesn’t want to buy
1 Ignorance; of the value of the item on the part of the buyer

Hall continues,
"One cannot under-estimate the importance of such patterns and the hold they have on people at all levels.

Discussing our stand in Egypt during and directly following the Aswan dam fiasco and before our position in the Middle East had deteriorated so badly, an Arab sympathetic to our cause expressed it this way,“If you don’t give a little in bargaining, the other fellow will back up. If he gives two steps, you have to give two steps, if you don’t he will back up four. We didn’t give our two steps and Nasser backed up four.”

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