Egypt & Shopping – Straight, No Chaser

Here is my sequel on “Shopping in Egypt”. I’ll scrawl my account on “Women in Egypt” later – The current post will get too long otherwise. And you know how I hate to gas away for more than 2 pages. At any rate, you know now.

Let me begin at the very beginning, always a good place to begin. I own 4 watches that don’t work & 2 cheap watches that do. If you search my locker, you will find 2 more watches that don’t work. The watch that my brother gifted me from his first salary (a “Titan”). An old watch of indeterminate make & a fluorescent pink strap that will make your eyes water – a hand-me-down from my mother. I’m married to a man who thinks that – if you buy watches cheaper than a “Citizen” or a “Seiko”, you must be below the poverty line. He firmly believes that if something doesn’t work, it must be in the garbage bin, not the locker.

As you can see, I think spending too much money in shopping sprees ranks right next to “Original Sin”. My husband is a serial sinner. I took this man shopping in Egypt. I’ve been trying to lose a few pounds around my hips – I haven’t lost any, but my purse lost lots in that trip.

Before we started for Egypt, we were told that bargaining was a way of life there. I inwardly cringed – I hate bargaining. It simply drains me. My tendency is to chicken out & look for “Fixed Price” shops everywhere. I specifically don’t bargain with poor people: A few pounds more or less makes no difference to me. We needn’t have worried so much. True, most of the products don’t have a Price Label in Egypt. Still, contrary to what we were told, we didn’t face any problems while buying essentials like Food, Mineral Water, Toiletries or Medicines in Egypt. As long as we avoided the road-side vendors, we found the prices very reasonable.

You will most likely be cheated on the price & quality of curios – that’s part & parcel of being a tourist, so take that with a shrug & a smile. What got my goat was this – there’s no price listed even on the books! For crying out loud! It felt weird, negotiating the price of “The Life & Times of Rameses II – 3rd Edition”. After a couple of days, we were negotiating like native Arabs – with gusto & know-how (I hope). The shop-keepers are friendly & they really love bargaining. Its a battle of wits! Some of the shop-keepers thanked us for being friendly & went out of their way to help us, give us discounts or show us their best wares. A little politeness went a long way in Egypt.

Egypt will be a disappointment for the inveterate & discerning shopper. There are plenty of tourist traps that sell you cheap, tacky stuff. But, there are very few good buys – “steals” – to be had. The path to historical sites is paved with shops selling knick-knacks. And the tourists have to walk the gauntlet, braving touts who woo them with ardor. All these shops from Cairo to Alexandria to Luxor to Aswan sell the same kind of stuff, uniting Upper & Lower Egypt in a way Narmer never imagined. Scarabs, Imitation Beads, Key Chains, Glass Pyramids, Heads/Statues of Gods, Ash Trays, Vases, Boxes. Even Khan El Khalili was a major letdown. I had these fantastic visions of the Khan as a thriving Souq: And verily it pulsates with – tourists and apocrypha.

While making our way to the “El Fishawy” Coffee House in the Khan, we found a nice looking figure of Bastet, the Cat Goddess. The shop keeper sauntered to me & said with a knowing wink, “Lady, its made of Aponis”. Dim realization dawned on us that he meant “Ebony”. Ebony, my ass. It was made of plywood coated with plastic & painted black. Anyhoo, we bought the “Aponis” Bastet.

Serious shoppers can buy Alabaster, Papyrus, Essential Oils, Carved Wood, Carpets, Spices, Glass, Silver-ware & Brass-ware. All these are of exceptional quality & hence cost a neat packet of money – so be prepared to spend your $$$. We decided not to buy anything bulky, so we had to give carpets a pass. And please – my eyes are about to go blind from the tasteless overuse of Wood, Silver & Brass in India. If I had a choice of either that or a cup of Hemlock – Thank you, I’ll take the Hemlock with 2 cubes of sugar. That left Alabaster, Papyrus & Essential Oils. Alabaster is either machine-cut or hand-made. MC Alabaster looks depressingly & suspiciously glossy, as if it had ODed on cheap varnish. Hand-made Alabaster looks nice, provided you know how to look for damages.

So we settled for Papyrus & Essential Oils. And plenty of kitschy stuff that we hated at first, second & third sights. We didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the Egyptian shop keepers. “You don’t like ANYTHING in my shop??” “Ooh, no no – We love your shop. We’ll take the fluorescent green cup with “CLEOPATRA” emblazoned in Red!” Travel is fraught with such dangers.

A parting shot: I wish the tour guides would stick to guiding & refrain from touting. Some of our guides were more interested in taking us to a “very nice shop that sells Egyptian Cotton” than in explaining Nefertari’s legacy to us. The more enterprising ones wanted to sell us “a nice CD with photos because we were historical people” – hope the guide was alluding to our interest in history, not our age. It becomes very uncomfortable when your guide can’t put a lid on his/her sales pitches & you want to be left alone with the priceless legacy of Pharaonic Egypt.

Next Up – Will be a piece of fiction from me. Hang in there.


Comments

  1. Quote

    Priya,

    Irrespective of the topic, your posts always makes me smile.

    Talking about bargaining, here is a funny take on bargaining between an Indian and Chinese by Russell Peters” who is now one of my favorite comedians. You can find more of his clips on YouTube.

    Be a man!!

    Ganesh

  2. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 26, 2007, 11:02 pm:

    Good one Priya. I think we should also mention the salesmanship of people we saw in the papyrus, perfume shops and the drama enacted by the Alabaster shop’s salespersons. It was too funny.

  3. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 26, 2007, 11:03 pm:

    Ganesh – Thanks for your comment. Thanks especially for the link – I’ll check it out.

    Be a man? Buddy, if I become more masculine than I already am, our marriage would become illegal in India πŸ˜€

  4. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 26, 2007, 11:05 pm:

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment. Yes, they really had their sales techniques perfected didn’t they?

  5. Quote

    Priya,

    If you watched the linkI had mentioned, you would get what I mean by “Be a man”!! Guess I should have established some context for it.

    Ganesh

  6. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 26, 2007, 11:32 pm:

    Ganesh – Thanks. So sorry, I guessed that would be the case, but I simply couldn’t resist being a wise-ass. I just can’t πŸ˜€

    Just watched the video – he’s just too good. Thank God for YouTube.

  7. Quote

    Another classic Priya post. Very funny.

    /*I think spending too much money in shopping sprees ranks right next to β€œOriginal Sin”. My husband is a serial sinner*/ it perfectly descibes me and my husband too.

    I absolutely abhor bargaining, I don’t know how some people manage it with ease. In fact, I suspect they shop simply for the pleasure of bargaining rather then buying.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  8. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 29, 2007, 8:46 am:

    Archana – Thanks for your comment.

    We should simply send our husbands shopping after snatching the credit cards from them. Then, we can spend time talking about your favorite topic (symbology) & my favorite topic (cleaning the bathroom) πŸ™‚

    People actually love the bargaining part better?? Yea, I’ve seen these creatures, but always sort of assumed they were a different species. They are Homo sapiens? Is that what I’m hearing now? πŸ˜€

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 29, 2007, 8:53 am:

    Don’t worry Archana and Priya we will use cash πŸ™‚

    I guess we should call the inveterate bargainers Homo Shoppiens πŸ™‚ What say LOL?

  10. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 29, 2007, 10:42 am:

    Sukumar – Sorry, Homo shoppiens – That’s a good name. Thanks. Suits you.

  11. Quote
    pk.karthik said January 2, 2008, 5:23 am:

    Good one Priya ….i did like Orginal Sinner comment …….:)

  12. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 2, 2008, 10:01 am:

    LOL @ the parting shot!

    Bargaining does actually give a sense of victory sometimes [heehe] You walk out of the place thinking that you are very clever , besides a little bargaining doth no harm πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›
    Anyways bargain or no bargain , If you really dont know the value ( a very relative thing ) of what you are buying you are only being the loser.

  13. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 2, 2008, 11:16 am:

    Karthik – Thanks πŸ™‚ If you liked it, you probably suffer someone’s shopping sprees too. Please accept my sympathies.

  14. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 2, 2008, 11:28 am:

    Jaskirat – Thanks for your comment.

    Yeah, I’m always in awe of people who have a panache for bargaining. Like my cousin. The vendor will quote 100 Rs & Ms Lion-Heart will unflinchingly ask for 40 Rs. I’ll be quaking in my boots, expecting to get beaten up πŸ˜€ She’ll finally clinch the deal at 48 Rs.

  15. Quote
    pk.karthik said January 2, 2008, 12:37 pm:

    Spot in Priya…I hate shopping ..I have made the cardinal sin of going out some of my friends to purchase clothes…oh my god…what a painful Task….I hate bargaining too πŸ™‚

    But this reminds of an interseting story..once a pal and I went to buy a sari for his mom at Kumaran..we selected the 2nd Sari…The guy could not believe his luck..he kept repating …are u sure ….are sure…about 10 times…:)

  16. Quote
    Sreedhar N.K said January 2, 2008, 3:20 pm:

    Priya,

    Very interesting and entertaining read. Don’t understand why you don’t write more often!

    This post was a blend of Maureen Dowd and Mary Roach (Reader’s digest). I enjoyed reading it. You should write more and often. Can’t wait for the next one.

  17. Quote

    The much awaited post with the usual stroke of wit and wisdom. Liked the post very much. But people like me, who have met Sukumar only once, would never agree that he is a ‘serial sinner’ πŸ™‚ And going by his definition for LOP, I think most of us live BPL πŸ˜€

  18. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 3, 2008, 6:11 am:

    Karthik – You selected the 2nd saree you saw? OMG, you didn’t have a woman around to guide you?? Everyone likes the 2nd saree they see. Hell, even if you like the 1st – you should see at least 2 dozen more. Its kind of obligatory, you know. The shop has so many sarees – you ought to stop & admire them, sort of to motivate the sales people.

    And you should keep the suspense level up & never tell the sales person which saree you like! My mom never really commits. She’s always like, “Let’s see – I like the pink one. And definitely the blue one. I’ll be crazy not to take the yellow dress. You might as well show me the gray thingie on the top shelf. While you are at it, show me the latest arrivals” πŸ˜€

    That’s how its done. And she might very well walk away without buying anything because the sales person showed us too many sarees πŸ˜€

  19. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 3, 2008, 6:16 am:

    NK – Thanks for your comment. Mary “Roach”? Oooh, the name gives me the willies. Nevertheless, you think she writes like me? Mebbe I should sue her – what do you think πŸ˜€ Nenappu thaan enakku πŸ˜€

  20. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 3, 2008, 6:23 am:

    Mahesh – Thanks for your comment.

    About Sukumar – Ejjactly. No one realizes how much he loves shopping. He needs to like the shop though. He swears that its his civic duty to spread his money around πŸ˜‰

    I read this: If you have to perk someone up when they are down – just drag them along to shop for some small item. Retail Therapy. Apparently works like magic everytime πŸ™‚

  21. Quote

    Good one Priya. Was waiting for this. Though i find it surprising that sukumar is interested in shopping and you are not. πŸ™‚

  22. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 7, 2008, 9:30 pm:

    Revathi – Thanks for your comment.

    You got me there. I do fall face down for certain items that have a bold & wacky design.

    Unfortunately, the items I like to buy are a lee-etle on the expensive side. I’ll give an arm & a leg to have an original Modigliani painting – an arm & a leg, not my money πŸ˜€ Right now, I’d love to start a collection of Art Deco houses πŸ˜€ I balk at the price tag of these items πŸ˜‰ The word “balk” is not in Sukumar’s dictionary. Hence the trouble, my lady.

  23. Quote
    Sharmi (subscribed) said January 8, 2008, 7:00 am:

    Priya
    My search for your post has got me here.Great to see your post and what timing ..My life is centred around Egypt currently , because of my 5 year old son who has already become a great Egyptionologist.I do not know what you call for those people who have a special interest for Egypt.

    He talks about mummification, Tutankhamun, Cleopetra.His favourite toy is a mummy within a sarcophagus.We had to buy it after a massive search on his request.We had to take him to the museum to show him a real mummy.
    Yesterday he created a nameplate with his name written in Egyptian scripture and today he has scared me that he will put makeup on me like Cleopetra.

    Can you share some good pictures of pyramid…from inside..do they allow photographs inside the pyramid?

  24. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 8, 2008, 8:30 am:

    Sharmi – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, children are fascinated by Egypt & the mummies. Its awesome to see kids show such interest in history.

    Actually, there isn’t anything inside the pyramids. The tomb robbers & father time took care of most of that, unfortunately. Whatever was left is in various museums around the world – & some in the really nice Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

    I’ll send you some pics of Egypt by email.

  25. Quote
    Sharmi (subscribed) said January 9, 2008, 6:17 am:

    Thanks Priya.

    I am looking forward for Women in Egypt.I love your posts.

  26. Quote
    Sujatha said January 9, 2008, 7:54 am:

    Hi Sharmi

    I am not sure where you live, but there is a travelling exhibit of King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs which is currently on display at London and will be in Dallas,Tx soon. We visited it when it was in Chicago, it was an awesome experience for my son who was also a budding egyptologist at that time. Check out the details at

    http://www.kingtut.org/home.

    There are also some exhibits in the Museum of National History at Washington D.C and Pittsburgh.

  27. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 9, 2008, 8:57 am:

    Sharmi – Thanks. Yes, I’m planning to write a post on women in Egypt. Or, women and Egypt.

  28. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 9, 2008, 11:32 am:

    Sujatha – Thanks for your comment. Sharmi lives in Kolkata, BTW.

  29. Quote
    Sharmi (subscribed) said January 10, 2008, 7:04 am:

    Thanks Sujatha .But as Priya mentioned I am based out of Kolkata, India.

    Good to know my son is not the only baby egytologist, we started thinking it might be some past life connections:) .

    One of my friend reminded me seeing my son , that with dead Pharaohs their favourite servants were buried alive at that time..and you know what she hinted towards.

  30. Quote

    Sharmi

    Children are like sponges, when they are interested in one area they want to go to the depth of it. But they do keep changing(we moved from dinosours to egypt to harry potter and now to NFL) as they grow up, so he will find something new and move on soon. Provide him the fun and knowledge of his interest and enjoy every phase as they grow up.
    There are lots of documentary movies in National Geographic and Discovery channel about Egypt. I think these movies and all the books should keep him busy for now. The best part is, we also get more interested into it as we read and watch with them.

    Wish you Good luck with your son.

  31. Quote
    Sharmi (subscribed) said January 10, 2008, 8:14 am:

    Thanks Sujatha .I agree with you .I am thouroghly enjoying my new phase of learning with him .

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