Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The art of buying

One of the first things I learned about Peruvian culture was how shopping in Cuzco is a bit different than shopping in the US. While there are certainly bustling supermarkets that offer a variety of products, there is a ubiquitous presence of vendors, shops and food stalls that line the streets, enthusiastically suggesting you to examine their 100% baby alpaca-wool sweater or try their freshly prepared delicacy. As I walk from one destination to another, I am constantly lured in by the aromas and colors each stall offers but I remain guarded and skeptical about the quality of many of their products. I have never been a big shopper and throughout all of our visits to different towns, all I have managed to buy is simple necklace for 3 soles at a local market in Pisac that signifies the different levels of the upper world, surface world, underworld; the sacred animals of the snake, puma, condor; the affirmations of don’t steal, lie or be lazy; and the respective elements of air, earth, water and fire. Not a bad deal I suppose as I always been more into the meaning behind artwork and jewelry than its actual flashiness. My forays into the market have taught me that bargaining and haggling are okay, in fact, even expected. Having visited China a couple of times where the streets are equally bustling and crowded, this type of rugged salesmanship is not new to me but I find it equally rewarding. At one of the markets we visited during our five day trip that culminated in Machu Pichu, I was interested in buying a sweater from an elderly lady. The starting price was fifty soles. While that really isn’t that expensive compared to brands in the US, I feigned disinterest and disbelief, saying things like “Tengo suéteres suficientes.”  I gave a counteroffer of 30 soles, which seemed ridiculous but when she lowered her price to 45, I held firm. While she eventually offered to sell the sweater for that price, I decided against buying it. Still, it is empowering to be able to walk around local markets, suggesting prices you think are reasonable. The casualness of bargaining and talking with the stall owners is so interactive and fun that even when I have no interest in buying something, I will ask them about a certain piece of sculpture, necklace or cloth just to see how cheap I can get the item for. If nothing else, the constant haggling has been one of the ways I’ve been able to practice talking with local natives. 

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