A Western Tourist Hasn’t a Chance in a Persian Bazaar
To get what you want in a Persian bazaar you have to play by the rules. If you don’t even know they exist, you are going to be roundly cheated.
From Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Nov. 27, 2014, Arutz Sheva
The West played the role of the dumb tourist as it shopped in the Iranian bazaar.
There are two kinds of markets in the world today: the Western store and the Eastern bazaar. In the West, stores have fixed prices for merchandise, with the cost visible on each item by law. Everyone pays the same amount for his purchases, whether he really wants what is for sale or can manage perfectly well without it. Westerners are used to this kind of shopping, which is why many of them spend a good deal of time and effort to find the stores with the best prices. The price is objective and based on the merchandise, not on the personality of the seller or the identity of the buyer. You will not find someone arguing about a price in a store in the United States and anyone who dares to do so is regarded like a creature from Mars, a barbarian from another culture.
In contrast, in the Middle East, bazaar culture is the rule and the relationship between buyer and seller is based on totally different cultural norms. The price varies from minute to minute depending on various factors: how badly the seller needs the money he can get from the sale; how much the buyer wants the merchandise; whether the seller is afraid the buyer will leave him and look for another seller; how many other traders are offering the same item. When the seller needs cash and the buyer can live without the merchandise, when there are other traders with similar items and the buyer can get to them easily – the price goes down. If the seller is not in need of the money, the buyer really wants the merchandise and especially if he says he is willing to pay anything for it, and if there are no others selling the same thing or it is hard to get to them – the price will be high. This is where market forces play a central role in determining the price of merchandise.
In the Middle Eastern bazaar culture there is another, very important factor, the personal one. The buyer and seller want to see one another, touch one another, talk to each other and feel each other. The interpersonal contact, smile, handshake, words of welcome, questions and answers, familiarity, body language, all are part of the negotiations on the price. A deal is not just an economic act, it is an event, almost like a wedding. Factors involved here have nothing to do with economics: if the seller is someone the buyer is not willing to talk to because he is, for example, a Jew, Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, Persian, Turk or member of any group the buyer does not like, he will not buy from him even if the item is practically free of charge.
Someone from the West – let’s say a tourist, for our purposes – who enters a Middle Eastern bazaar, gets high from the odors, confused by the scenes, dizzy from the colors, excited by the music, disgusted by the crowding, and then buys whatever he sees because the prices are low, only to discover that night, at his hotel , that he overpaid, the paint is peeling off and the merchandise is falling apart or rotten. Besides, some of it is made in China and can be bought on the internet for half of what he paid.