Two Afghani’s and Two Americans Walk Into a Souq – Day 18

Day 18 started the last week of my Middle Eastern portion of the trip. Again, we worked hard to figure things out and formalize our presentation, which is scheduled for Thursday. As part of our research, we met with the head of our clients food related business. He helped clarify quite a bit for us.


After the meeting, most of the team went halfway up the Burj Khalifa, while Joey and I went to the souqs. He had yet to go, so it was fun having him ride along and see what the real Dubai was like, not the western, Las Vegas like experience we have had where we are staying.


We started by trying to pick up the custom shirts Travis and I had made, but they weren’t ready. Joey then found the shoe store, where they had some fantastic shoes. They had a deal, 3 pairs for 975 dirham ($260). A pretty good deal…. if you have room in your bag to take them back. The combination of the price and packing space seemed to be Joey’s hold up, but he’s still thinking about it.


Next, we took a boat for a quarter across the river to the Old Souq. This is where the real negotiating began. One of the store workers pulled us into his store and Joey found some scarves he liked, so I started asking how much. The thing about these places are that no price is given until they think you are ready to pay and leave. So when the guy finally showed me the price on his calculator, it read 265 dirham ($72)!? For one scarf? All I did was look at him and say no. So he showed me another price, 165 dirham. I still just stared at him and said … no. He was crazy. With this, he started asking where we were from, and I replied USA. He then said he was from Afghanistan. I immediately felt awkward, but the negotiating continued. But then, with a wry smile he said “Our countries are friends, but we (you and I) can still fight”. This was meant to be fight out on price, but it was still really funny.


As Joey became more serious about the scarves, he was pushing the vendor hard on price. 15 minutes went by, and they’re starting to pull tons of scarves off the shelves to show him to convince him of the value and make him pay a higher price. Finally, the other store worker brings me a chair to admire the negotiating that is happening. 30 minutes in, still all business. By this point, Joey has become an expert on the scarves, where they were made, the patterns, etc. Meanwhile, I’m dying laughing.


Finally, they agreed on a price, but Joey had no cash and it was a cash only place. The vendor then tells Joey to follow him to an ATM and for me to wait in the store. This seemed questionable at best. But, it seemed legit and the ATM was right out the front door. In the meantime, I chatted with the other store attendant. Turns out he was also from Kabul, Afghanistan. We talked about his experience in Dubai and how he missed his family. While it was possible that it was part of the sales game, they knew I wasn’t buying, so it really was just a conversation between people of two very different countries. But, at the same time, I could understand some of what he felt. It was a great experience. Joey returned within minutes and closed the deal (they even gave Joey another 10 dirham back, less than the agreed price) we took a picture with the main salesperson, he gave us his name to find him on Facebook and we bid adieu. Joey felt like he got a great deal, and hopefully the vendor did well for themselves too (I’m pretty sure they did).


The souqs continue to exceed expectations and be the true cultural experience I was seeking here in the UAE.


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