Sunday, January 04, 2009

Shopping for Local Crafts

It has always been extremely easy for me to fall in love with local crafts, be they intricate Mexican day of the dead Catrinas, large (never to be actually worn) Maasai necklaces, Kanga-wraps with Swahili sayings from Tanzania, or Murano glass from Italy. Therefore one of the first points on my to-do list in South Africa was to find a place to shop for local arts and crafts. Finding a local crafts market was actually our mission on the first weekend we ever spent in SA. And, oh boy, what did we find. 

One of my husband's local colleagues packed his family in the car, threw us in the mix, and headed out northwest of the capital, Pretoria, to Hartbeespoort Dam, a beautiful area in its own right with breathtaking views from the dam. However, the area is also home to several big and varied crafts markets. After a short confusion regarding the nature of the market we were headed to - our Afrikaner friends insisted on calling it a 'flea market', but assured me I would find what I was looking for - we arrived at Chameleon Village. At this point in time we were still living out of our suitcases in a hotel room, and my husband wisely advised me to "look, but not buy... yet". Before my visit to this market, it had never occurred to me how much I actually liked traditional drums, beaded animals, woodcarvings of more or less angry looking Africans, spear and shield ornaments, or beaded leather sandals. Also, from what I could see from a distance, carved chairs, headboards, tables and such were also available in the area. It would be easy to add an African touch to our home. In my crafts-crazed state I wasn't even thinking about prices and I could see my husband pale by the minute.

Still, as agreed, and because it would be smart, we only looked that first time and made plans (or at least I did, my husband might have been going over the budget instead). We would be back.

Yesterday, after pretty nigh buying the market dry on our previous visits, we went back for the fourth time, and finally realized how the shopping was to be done. Being from two very 'European' countries, I and my husband are not used to bargaining or anyone trying to rip us off either. I've heard this trait often referred to as having the blue-eyed gene, and I'm pretty sure we both do. In the past, we have happily paid what was asked, or only slightly less, only to be answered by either a puzzled expression, or a big, toothy smile. Yesterday, however, since we were in a hurry, and I was getting extremely annoyed by the sellers' super aggressive sales tactics, I decided to play hardball. To every approaching seller I responded with a very pointed (in my mean voice) "Thank You, just looking", while doing the universal 'stop' with my hands. 

I and my husband were on a mission trying to find presents for our friends in Mexico. We had a list, and we had agreed to only look for specific things for the people on the list (in reality this meant that I ended up with only one new fruit basket for our house). As we found something appropriate for each person, I made it further and further into 'the zone'. I was telling sellers they were "giving me tourist prices" and that I knew "exactly how much this drum is worth". At one point, after telling a seller to "please let me look in peace" (still in my mean voice), I actually told the very same seller that I had just seen a similar item to his and it was going for half his price. To top it off, we finally did several 'walking away because your price is too high' routines, only to find to our amazement that they actually worked.

I'm sure the sellers are still making a profit (if not a superb one), and that I finally acted more the norm than a green-behind-the-ears tourist. I also found that I actually enjoy the game of back and forth bargaining, while also being much more comfortable with touring the market without having ten guys in my face trying to force their wares on me. With this experience in my back pocket, I'm already planning my next shopping trip, since I now know it will be much more of a true South African experience. I'll also be trying to brush up on my local accent. Will that accent be Afrikaans or English is yet to be figured out.     

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