A few days ago I almost wrote a post lamenting that everywhere is America, that is, everywhere seems to have taken on the pop culture and social assumptions and expectations of the U.S. I knew better. Where there is imitation, it is sometimes humorous, sometimes pitiful, and sometimes simply to be expected with economic development. Besides, such a view is rather shallow, and indicates one hasn't gone out of his way to find the differences that still very much remain.
Even though I won't have much of that opportunity because of my occupational obligations and the preferences of my host, I am still able to get my feet wet in the differences between Indonesia and the U.S. (Not all of these are unique to Jakarta, of course, either.)
One great thing is bargaining. In the States you can actually bargain, even in big box stores or malls, if you ask the right person (i.e., manager). But here (like most places), it is expected, and I don't have to run to find the manager if I want to make a deal.
Now I actually don't like confrontations with strangers, so you'd think I'd get ripped off every time because I'm not tough enough to stand my ground. But I am also enough of a cheapskate, which tends to win out over my mild personality. Here's an example:
Vendor to me (walking by wares as casually as possible, hoping no one will actually start showing me things): Can I help you? Maybe you like this special Indonesian cloth? Here, in red, or blue, green, yellow (starts pulling out what seems to be half of her supply).
I (slowing to look, because I am actually interested, but trying to stay casual): Well, I'm not looking for exactly that design (non-committally, but really having little idea yet of what I want).
Vendor: How about this? (Unfolds cloth) See how beautiful? You like this size? You want bigger?
I (getting sucked in): Yeah, maybe bigger. It needs to cover a big dining room table.
Vendor: OK, how about this? You like this design?
I (getting serious, examining the weave and quality of the cloth, and the quality of the print): Do you have something nicer?
Vendor: Oh, you want handmade? Over here we have our handmade items. Come. (She leads me to the center of the display area and pulls out cloth that is clearly of higher quality: a stronger weave with irregularities of a handmade process).
I (noticing the prices are about three times as much): Oh, that's nice (returning to non-committal state).
Vendor: For you, I make a deal (knocks 15% of the price).
I (knowing that I actually planned to buy something like this so I better take it seriously. I'm also emboldened by how easy it was to get the first discount): Let's find something in blue. Let's look through these.
(the Vendor starts pulling out ones I indicate I'm interested in. I note the marked prices as well as the quality of each one, and the ones I like)
I (paying attention mostly to those which are a bit under my budget, while occasionally admiring the nicer ones, one of which I'm really after): Well, let me think about these here. Let's hold them up. I wonder how this would look on the table....That other one there is really nice, but probably out of my price range.
Vendor (knocks 25 % off). OK, for you I can give you this price.
I: No, that's a little high. I'll have to go with one of these other ones. What can you offer me for these?
Vendor (20% off the cheaper ones): This price.
I: That's pretty good. (Looks back at better one.) My budget is around this much (mentions about 1/3 of the actual price of the one I want. This is the key counter offer. You have to start really low, even if it sounds outlandish. Some people who are actually good at this claim you should start at 10% of the asking price.) What do you think you could offer me for that?
Vendor (definitely focused on the cheaper ones after hearing my offer!): I can offer you one of these at this price (knocks 30 or 35% off).
I (just stand there and look). I don't know. It's not exactly what I want, I suppose.
Vendor: You get this for your wife? A special gift? Birthday?
I: No, just a souvenir for the trip. Nothing special.
Vendor: OK, I can give you this (cheaper one) for this much (knocks about 40-45% off the price).
I: Hmmm. This other one is the nicest. Do you think you could sell me that for the same price (which is 50% off the price of the nicer one, the one I really want).
Vendor (Looking surprised, and a little disgusted, starting to scold me): No, I couldn't do that.
I just stand there and look at the item.
Vendor: OK, for you, 50% off.
And that's the story of how I got a pretty good souvenir for half price. In a mall, no less. Without being too confrontational. And, actually, it is not a piece of cloth, but the item in the story has been changed to keep the recipient in suspense until I arrive home.