I just got back from shopping. Since I didn't have much of an opportunity to do it like a local (and benefit from the much lower prices), I was forced to do it in the hotel mall. Now, this mall has a Hugo Boss as you enter it, so you can only imagine the beating I took as I looked around for souvenirs and gifts for the kids.
Combine that with the fact that the kids have every sandalwood carving and marble collectible available in India, and bringing the kids back something meaningful is not the easiest of responsibilities to carry out.
I did have an idea as to what I wanted to get them. Marissa actually asked for something specific this year and Cassie is relatively easy to shop for. However, the boys present a challenge.
Ultimately, I wanted to get everyone something that was either desired or meaningful. I think I did pretty good. The problem is that all of this meaningfulness comes at a much steeper price than usual. In fact, since I didn't think I was going to have an opportunity to really shop, Angie and I discussed my coming back empty handed. We both agreed that we could do more meaningful things with the money that just bring back a bunch of crap from India.
However, that really left an empty feeling in me. I want the kids to share in the culture that I have come to know, but more importantly, I want to kids to know I am thinking about them when I am gone, and that I miss them and love them. Ultimately, it has become clear that the gift has less to do with the gift and more to do with the message it conveys, "that you're special and I was thinking about you."
So, with that, I decided I would brave the shops of the mall. I know what is in store for me when I walk through the halls - hard sells, haggling on price, and the ultimate feeling that I just got my ass handed to me. I would so much prefer to pay the asked price, but I know that isn't how you do things here, and in much of the rest of the world.
So, I shopped...trying to find everyone the perfect gift (or at least one that would be enjoyed). Justin was first. I asked for help with his and I found something pretty neat. Dylan was included in that search, and I found a really neat one, but it was $500 USD, so I continued to look. I found him a very cool substitute. Marissa was next. I knew what I wanted there, and not exactly what she asked for, I think she'll like them. Angie was last - always more difficult and more expensive than the others. I try to get her what she will like, not what I like. Cassie's was in another store so I knew I would pick it up later.
So, I have all of these gifts on the table, and the hard charging salesmen are calculating my tab. As the do this, I start preparing my act. Once they give me the total, I am going to play completely surprised and a bit put off by the amount. It's weird, I am completely at ease during a contract negotiation with a vendor, or even dressing down a vendor when necessary, but I felt my heart starting to beat harder just then. As I stated before, I do not like to haggle.
So, he gives me the amount and I am shocked!!! In fact, the shock was somewhat real. I shook my head, said I couldn't believe it was so much, and tried to make myself look like I was about to leave. He saw this and lowered the price a little. I shook my head again and gave him a counter offer. One that ultimately would have given myself a 50% discount.
He laughed and gave me some response that the discounts were already in the prices. I told him I appreciated that, but the total was too much. After some back and forth we ended up at about 75% from the original number. In the end, as they tried to sell me another item I told him to throw it in for free. He laughed again and then consented to the final price. I wasn't messing around here.
As I walked back to my hotel room, I can't help but feeling like I just got spanked. My guess is that a local would have gotten it down more, perhaps even to the original 50% that was my first counter. That's where the empty feeling comes in - that, and the fact that I have no idea how much the stuff I bought is really worth.
That being said, though, I am comforted by the fact that it isn't about the cost...
...its about the more important message.