I am going to buy a Nintendo Game & Watch. A really cool electronic game like my friend has. It’s about the size of a small walkman, has a little screen, and you press the buttons to move the monkey from side to side to catch bananas. It’s really fun. I’ve saved up my Christmas and birthday money, and my pocket money for weeks and weeks. I’ve been waiting for our trip to New York, because you can’t get them in London, at least, I don’t have enough money for them in London.
I carefully count up my pound notes. “How do I work out how much it is in dollars?” “You times by two and a half” says my father. “That means I have $25.”
“Make sure you bargain” he says as he hands me $25 dollars in exchange for my pounds. “What do you mean?”
“They will ask you to pay more than they really want. You suggest a lower amount, say half what they asked, they reject it, you suggest a little bit more until you can agree.” “But, why?” “It’s just the way things are done here.”
“So can you bargain for everything in New York?” “Not things like groceries, no, but expensive things like electronics don’t have fixed prices.” I giggle as I remember the funny advert for ‘Crazy Eddie’s Electricals’ where Eddie yells like a madman about his low prices as he chops up price tickets with a giant pair of scissors. You don’t get silly adverts like that in England.
Later, with my dollars safely folded into my purse, my mother and I take the long walk from our apartment to 42nd street, the best place for electronics. 30 blocks is quite a hike for a 9 year old and I smile proudly as my mother tells me how well I’m doing.
I must have heard the song ’42nd Street’ before, because I’m expecting it to be glamorous and sparkly, but it’s just a normal, dirty New York Street, full of small shabby shops. Not like Crazy Eddie’s electronics emporium further uptown. We go into a few, but they don’t have what I’m after. “Try the little shop upstairs next door, Cohen’s Electronics.”
We push open a plain, battered, door on the street marked ‘Cohen’s Electronics’ and climb a narrow, rather grubby staircase to the first floor. “Well this is an adventure, isn’t it darling?” says my mother, rather nervously I think, as we enter a small, stuffy, poorly lit room. Around three of the walls are brown wood and glass cabinets, and in front of them, brown wood counters. Behind the counters are three men, dressed in the heavy black suits and black hombergs of Hasidic Jews.
“Excuse me, do you sell Nintendo Game & Watch?”
“Oh, isn’t she cute? Check out that accent! Where are you from little girl?” “I’m from London and I’d like to buy a Game & Watch, please.”
“What kind do you want English girl?” asks the man in front of me as he opens a draw under the counter, pulling out a handful. He spreads five Game & Watches on the counter. “This one please, how much is it?” I say as I pick up the brown one, the monkey game.
“Well normally, it’s $40, but for you can have it for $35 because you have such a cute accent.” “I don’t have $35, can I have it for $20?”
“She’s bargaining with us, Solly! Ooh, how cute does bargaining sound in that accent? Well I can’t let it go for $20 but how about $25?”
“Yes please.” “$25 dollars it is! Sold to the little girl with the cute accent!”
I hand over the money and say goodbye, clutching my new Game & Watch to my chest. As we walk back down the grubby stairs, we can hear the three men talking about my accent. We celebrate my first bargain with a yellow taxi ride home.
This post was written for the Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak. This week I suggested a prompt “tell us about a life skill you’ve learnt and a time you used it.”
Bargaining is a very useful skill in many places in the world. In some countries, paying full price for anything, is as alien as asking the cashier in Sainsbury’s if she can do you a deal on baked beans.