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I volunteered for the wolf’s den

INDIA | Thursday, 26 June 2008 | Views [2021]

My first wrapping experience in India... and we were paying extra to the driver, yes. We were scammed, but we didn't do it again...

My first wrapping experience in India... and we were paying extra to the driver, yes. We were scammed, but we didn't do it again...

The two men jumped out of thin air, smiling, gesturing, waving an exotic smell under my nose, and I was hooked.

I had a list of ‘musts’ to experience in India. Some call this being a tourist. I’m going to see something I’ve heard about, rather than going to see what there actually is. So call me half tourist, half traveler, because after my list is ticked off, its not like I close my eyes and stop looking. I’m still after as much of the real thing as I can take.

On my list, was ‘buy spices’.  No, it was more like, ‘indulge your senses in a spice alley and be taken away to far off lands by smells, colours and maybe even get a few tips for cooking aubergine’ . (I always say eggplant, but I write aubergine. I think aubergine looks so much more elegant on the paper)

Anyway, that was my dream.

Funnily enough, I resisted the allure of plenty of spice alleys before. We’d been to Dubai where I had my first encounter with a spice souk. I was intrigued, but Jett, my 8 year old son, started having an allergic reaction to something in the air and we had to rush out for fear of him choking to death.

So there I am, a willing victim of overpriced spices.

After a vivid and emphatic description of the quality and ‘best best’ garam masala  (I wanted something for lentils) , I was shown perfume made of oils, tea masala, massage oil for headaches and the dealers began to insist on other services.

My partner looked at me pointedly, and started to object to all the extras that seemed to be piling up beside the garam masala.

But I was in a shopping moment of heaven. A buying moment that was like a dream. I had that look of ‘give me more’ and the stall keepers knew it.

I had to put half the things back before we left the store.  Albert (partner) refused to let me be so ‘stupid’. We’d discussed how shoppers get sucked in to buying more than they went for. We’d talked about the commissions, the kick backs, the tricks of the trade.

All ration had left me, and I walked out of the stall angry with Albert for having ‘ruined’ the buying moment.

Today I woke up thinking about how those two men had jumped out at us as we’d been walking through the back streets of Varanasi.  I can also see two other men, quiet and sad on the other side of the street, sitting in their stall. They were looking at me as if to say ‘You want to be fooled into buying overpriced spices. You want the big drama of a sales pitch. We can’t offer it. All we have is the same spices as these two men jumping at you, for a third of the price.’

Of course, its not the money that is our concern. In India, the Norwegian Kroner pushes aside the question of money. We’re talking about being fooled and feeling foolish.

Seth Godin, master marketer, suggests in his brilliant book ‘All marketers are liars’, two rules for the conscientious consumer. The second rule states ‘after I’ve used this and experienced it, will I be glad I believed the story or will I feel ripped off?’

Today I felt ripped off. Today the glory of the shopping buzz I had 5 months ago  made me feel like a fool. I can see that I bought too much. I can see that, to the stall guys, I was a sucker to be had. And it colours my memories.

Now, what are the effects of being a fool?

Of course, to the stall guys, it means nothing. I probably would never go back and buy something, let alone find the stall again, in my entire life. So, directly,  they do not lose.

But I associate the shopping experience as a lesson to be learnt, and I do not want to a repeat performance. So, I’m more wary and a lot colder, and I lose out, because I can’t afford the illusion of shopping happily without suffering the consequences of feeling like an idiot afterwards.

The ‘Indian shops’, to throw a blanker term over the lot,  also lose out, because its another unhappy tourist with another scam story to fill the pages.

Moral of the story?

For me – don’t lose your head. Don’t be a sucker. Listen to Albert (he doesn’t get cross all that often and if he does you should listen)

For Indian stalls – treat the foreign shopper with respect, because we’re happy to pay you more and tell our friends, just don’t make us feel like a fool afterwards or you spread the word that Indian shop keepers want scam you.


Tags: scams, t a j


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