No. 2 Il Duomo: Florence, Italy

“If you can’t go around it, over it, or through it, then you better negotiate with it.” ~ Ashleigh Brilliant 
Snapshot No. 2 My First Time Haggling and an Unsuccessful Attempt at Getting Away
   It’s hard to believe that buildings like Il Duomo exist. I say it every time I see yet another ridiculously beautiful building, but it’s so true. The colours of the church are amazing – green, pink, and white marble. The stuff of dreams. The ceiling art inside that looked like it was painted on the very sky itself. However, things that detracted from Il Duomo: the aggressive hawkers of art posters and selfie sticks that come up to you at every turn, pushing their products in your face, trying to guess where you are from, asking you a million times over and over, “you like? Selfie stick? Art? I give you for cheap.”  No matter how many times you say, no, do I look like I need a selfie stick? I don’t want your art posters. Please not another selfie stick. No, no, no. They persist. They address you in the streets shamelessly, they even follow you around for awhile. “You from States? Kon’nichiwa. Nín hǎo.* Hello, hello, excuse me! You want Selfie stick?” It was terrible. And yet, I got roped in.
   Here’s how it went down. Mistake no. 1: I went just a couple steps closer to look at the art posters because 1) I did want one 2) I can’t resist art wherever I go. I talk with the artists; I watch them while they work; I love the colours, the deftness of their hands, the landscapes and watercolours and pastels. But see, this was different. These posters were manufactured, on thick cardstock paper, probably sold to these street hawkers for less than a Euro, meant to draw in poor, unsuspecting tourists. Mistake no. 2: As much as I try, I sometimes just look like a poor, unsuspecting tourist.  I can’t help it. I take a million pictures of everything. I go to the corner of streets to peer at street signs, and then I consult my huge fold-out map because I trust it over google maps every time.
   Mistake no. 3: I hesitated. Hesitation is not good in haggling. When trying to get a price down, it’s important to pause in the right moments. This is an art that I have not mastered. I usually pause in all the wrong places, like when I list the price I want. This hesitation is my downfall because it tells the aggressive street hawker that I do, in fact, have more money but am pondering whether or not I should tell him this. Even if I have inadvertently already told him. Mistake no. 4: I made eye contact. It’s important to walk with purpose and avoid eye contact until you name your price, confidently and without hesitation.
     So as you can see, my first time haggling was not the most successful, but I got a poster from 25 Euro down to 5 Euro, and that was, I suppose, reasonable for a first time bargaining purchase.
Aggressive street-hawker (ASH for short): “You like? This one? Yes, art poster for you?”
Me: “Um.” (Note the hesitation.) “How much?”
ASH: “25 Euro only.”
Me: “Oh, I can’t afford that. I have no money.”
ASH: “How much can you give?”
Me: “Maybe… 5 Euro.” (Again the hesitation. Direct, that’s the key. Usually, you gotta cut their price in
half, and then go a few more Euros down. Or 10 or 20 depending on what it is. Somebody told me that I could have gotten the poster down to 3 Euros. )
ASH: “Oh that is very very low. I don’t think that is good. No, 8 Euro. 8 Euro. That is bargain,” pushing the poster at me. “8 Euro, you have?”
Me:  Thinking that this was moving way too quickly, “Only three. My friend got one here for just 3 Euros.”
(I start to walk away.)
ASH: Quick-rolling the poster up, snapping two rubber-bands on the ends that appeared out of nowhere. “No, no, wait! I give it, here. Take. 5 Euro. 5 Euro,” shoving the poster in my hands.
Me: “Ok, ok. Fine. 5 Euro it is.” Thankfully, I had just that much in change. The whole thing was so stressful, I had forgotten if I even had that much change. Forbid that I have only a 20 Euro bill, and there goes that whole haggling thing.
ASH: “Where you from?”
Me: “Oh, the States.”
ASH: *tsking* “The States.” Mumbling and shaking his head. “The States.”  (I had no idea what to make of this either.)
   So there you have it. And now I have a poster to prove my haggling prowess. Non-existent prowess, that is.
*This is something that you will face if you are an Asian traveling in Europe. It will be used in an insulting way. It can be used in a genuine way. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to tell the difference. I wish I could say that it is used in a genuine, “I want to get to know you and more of your culture” way, but it usually is not. Sometimes you will be “bowed” to in the streets. This happened a lot in Brussels. It happens in Copenhagen occasionally. You will be called out in Athens, in Rome, in Florence. Mostly by the above aggressive street hawkers who just want a sale. How I approached it? I didn’t stop walking, I didn’t buy any of their products, and I let it go most of the time. And you know what? Most of the time that worked. Sometimes it made me sad or upset or just plain angry (when it really was used insultingly), and then I thought to myself that if I do this, I will just be helping them accomplish their purpose and that, in turn, would accomplish nothing. So I’ve found that walking by, ignoring them, and looking forward to the destination ahead is the best road to take.
   Because yes, I’ve gotten Kon’nichiwa, nín hǎo, fake-bowed to in the streets. But I’ve also gotten Danish spoken to me in most places, a Danish woman helping me reach the top box on a shelf, a cashier answering my question in English with Danish at first and then quickly switching, smiling. I’ve had Italian spoken to me in the train, on the metro. French in Brussels, and the kindest store-keeper who gave me free samples of chocolate. I’ve ordered gelato and sandwiches and coffee in Italian, with some pointing involved as well. I’ve been mistaken for Japanese, Vietnamese, half-Asian, even Indian. In fact, Chinese is often the last guess. I think this goes to show that we are all different and unique and beautiful in our own ways, that our origins hold significance and influence, but they should not fully dictate who we are and what we stand for, fight for, believe in – this, I believe, is for each of us to decide individually, with mindfulness and empathy.

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