The Indian salesman

I have a natural inclination to negotiation, at least that’s what my family says, and therefore I am often “used” when we go for shopping missions in the city. In reality I have more audacity than others, while deceivingly thinking to have enough sensibility to understand when and if negotiating on the price is appropriate or not. Let me explain: I am not a rip-off merchant and I’ve got common sense. I’m saying this to stop anybody from expressing criticism. So it’s true that I negotiate and try to lower the price, but people, if you don’t negotiate in India you end up looking like a fool!

So this is the reason why I often find myself wondering and analysing the figure of the “salesman” while negotiating prices in India. This happens precisely in Vijayawada. Almost travelling outside my body my attention focuses on my interlocutor, trying to understand which mental dynamics might be happening in his head.

Very often I leave from Italy with a few hundreds of euros to spend, collected from donations from friends and relatives. When the amount is significant I prefer entrusting the amount to the Care&Share office and support an on-going project such as the installation of solar panels to warm up the water for the Babies Home or the construction of Piera Home. Also to avoid being accused of exporting international currency, given the times.

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When the euros collected amount to a few hundreds I personally take care of them and it always takes me a lifetime. Because in India it’s hard to even spend money!

It doesn’t make sense for me to spend the money in Italy for things that I can find in India for much lower prices. Moreover, even though transporting these goods from Italy has never caused me any troubles, once I got to India it’s always a much bigger problem. Paying a fine because I am transporting a bag full of baby bottles, pacifiers and things intended for the babies of an orphanage really doesn’t make sense to me. While explaining this, begging a cold and disinterested flight assistant I truly understood what it feels like wanting to punch someone in the face. The reason why I didn’t do so was because I still have some common sense left and because I was probably going to be abandoned by husband who is a very tolerant gentleman.

In Vijayawada you can easily find any kind of goods, you only have to know where to look. The real challenge is purchasing those goods within a reasonable timeframe.

Purchasing the mirrors for the bathrooms of the boy’s houses will always be the epitome of impossible shopping. It was our first year and we were so full of enthusiasm that we were deceived to think we could buy a few dozens of mirrors to install above every bathroom sink. The goal was to give the boys the chance to see their teeth before and after brushing them in the morning.

Explaining to our driver Kishore that we wanted to go to a mirror store wasn’t easy but eventually we managed to do it. He drove us to a mirror factory with a wholesale in the back. We are welcomed in the owner’s office with the fan pointed in our face and we start explaining the crazy order we want to place:  18 rectangular mirrors of the size of a A4 paper that we want to attach to the walls.

Apart from the nature of the order, higher than expected, the owner really isn’t able to understand that we want the mirrors as soon as possible so that we can bring them with us to the orphanage in order to be sure that they are hung in the right place. All of those mirrors ordered at the same time make it even more difficult. We have to wait at least 15 days, and by that time we will already be back in Italy. But it’s fine, please deliver them to the person in charge in two weeks and we will take care of the rest. How much do we have to pay? It’s impossible to know the price on the day; glass’ prices could change over the next days. Never heard something like that before, if we were talking about gold or petrol I would understand, but it’s glass we’re talking about. And, most importantly, we are guessing its price two weeks in advance, not two years, willing to pay some rupees more as long as we conclude the deal.

There’s nothing we can do. Not even with the money on his desk, without any kind of negotiation, we are able to get to a conclusion. So we go back to the orphanage without mirrors. I remember Ugo and the girls subtly embarrassed asking me to stay calm and not hit the man of the mirrors. I become very dangerous in these occasions.

Even the purchase of baby dypers, last Christmas, required a good amount of self-control. I have about 250 euros to spend and at the Babies Home there aren’t enough baby dypers. Perfect, I say, let’s go to the city and buy them. I intend to buy a whole shelf, which consists of different sizes, different brands and therefore different prices and promotions. A real nightmare!

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We are graced by the presence of 4 salesmen that are serving us, each of them for a different stage of the process: one talks, the other pushes the trolley, another takes the goods from the shelf and the last one negotiates the price. On top of that we have our kids escorting us, helping us translating Telugu to English, making the process even more confusing.

First of all, as everybody knows, the lateral head swing means “yes”, however, if the swing is less decisive the meaning is “I don’t know”. When it comes to “no” there is no head swing or even a word, because the Indian salesman never says no. He always offers you something else, completely different from what you need to buy.  Even the facial expression is very important, they never stop giving you that weird smile that curves the lips and makes the eyes sweeter, but doesn’t allow me to understand whether there are enough diapers or not, or better, if they are gonna give them to me or not.

Eventually, with two trolleys full of dypers I am told to head down to the lower floor. The tills are crowed with people waiting to pay who have no idea what a queue is. When finally our turn comes, besides the usual 4 salesmen, we are joined by three more essential individuals: the one who scans the products, the one putting them into the carrier bags and the last one taking the money. And here’s the best part: we would like to pay for the goods with a credit card. Lord have mercy upon our souls! We need one more professional figure in charge of this kind of procedure. In short, I have to make it shorter even if it’s very long, we finally manage to pay getting to know another good amount of employees and we get through the tills with our trolleys bursting with diapers and our hearts filled with joy. But it’s not over. Here it is the same old, always present, smart and super serious Indian policeman standing at the exit waiting to check whether the amount I paid for matches with the actual goods. After all this time I don’t get fooled anymore, but the first times I found myself looking everywhere for the receipt who I had put somewhere without thinking I was going to have to show it again. If I don’t show the receipt all I have done so far will be lost and I will end up without my diapers. Now, far from me is trying to look excessively argumentative but the check of the receipt/goods is a joke and, as always in India, any piece of paper ends up being stamped and thrown on the floor with the amount of trash that covers every inch of the road.

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How I can remember some stories that Carol told me over dinner at the end of another day in Daddy’s Home! She seemed cruel to me, at times sarcastic and very often resigned when she talked about this strange way of dealing with life that people from this country have. But in the end you get used to it, you measure your time carefully and adapt your timing and methods to their timings and methods. The most important thing is to never give up. We are different and very often I feel inappropriate, almost intrusive, when I demand for my standard of perfection, punctuality according to my clock and tidiness according to what I’m used to. After all, I only spend a few weeks every year on this place, how can I demand to be listened after I get on the plane and go back to my hectic, methodical and neurotic life?

I love you Indian salesmen because with your head swing you fool me into thinking I just made a great deal, you make me look like a solid woman, when in reality you are the one who always make a great deal and, as soon as that solid woman will leave, you will be on the floor laughing.

It’s a  little show that we both decide to take part of, each of us playing our role, as long as we get to the ultimate goal which is the benefit of the orphans, victims of this understandable and voluntarily complicated system.

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