Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Vendors 2, Oscar Madison 0

I had just gotten of the plane my first morning in Tel Aviv and was already in the jet lag zone, wearying myself further by walking from the train station with my luggage and getting a bit lost on the way to my hotel.

I just wanted a shower and bed, but an alluring fruit stand stood in my way. The two Jaffa oranges and a red grapefruit seemed a bit pricey at 14 shekels, but my mind too fogged to figure out whether I was getting ripped off. The oranges seemed to be going for 6 shekels -- but the unit of weight was mysterious. Could it be kilos? Shekels divided by four equals dollars, and kilos are 2.2 lbs.

The cross-cutting arithmetic would have been difficult even had I been at my alert best, so I dealth with the problem by saying, "hey, I'll take two of those bottles of water."

Now the price was up to 32 shekels. "Are the water bottles 9 shekels a piece?" I asked, figuring that a litre of bottled water does cost over $2 at overpriced convenience stores... and this was a convenient two blocks from my hotel.

But the vendor, talking fast, had moved on to how great the dates were, and the figs and dried apricots, and everything is going to be closed at sundown for shabbat, so I'll starve. He started handing me free tastes.

"Okay, uh, those dates."

He scooped a handful into a bag, weighed them, and announced the total for my entire purchase: 64 shekels. I was grateful to be on my way.

After a shower and a nap, I went back over the incident. Basically, I had paid $16 in that store, about $3.50 for the citrus fruit -- about what you'd pay in a New York City fruit stand, where the citrus has to travel at on average a thousand miles to get there -- and about $8 for maybe a pound of dates, which frankly I don't even like that much. Clearly, the man was naming prices that would be considered random but for their uniform high-ness. It took some serious meditation to convince myself to let go of that one.

These oranges at the Carmel Market look much better than those at the ripoff shop.
Note the price: 3.50 shekels, but for what amount of fruit?
Not knowing this places one at a real bargaining disadvantage.

I have no excuse for the Carmel Street market incident. I quickly translated from shekels to dollars as the vendor named a price for the kippa (yarmulke) -- an item I would be needing to visit various synagogues and the Western Wall. But the price sounded reasonable for the item, and I just paid it. Less than an hour later, walking past a religious aritcle shop, a saw a bin of kippas and realized that I paid the market vendor 33% more than I would have paid in a shop!

Clothing stalls at the Carmel market.

There of all places I should have known that it's my duty not to accept the quoted price. Considering that the price difference amounted to 50 cents, it wasn't exactly a big deal, but it's the principle of the thing.


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