Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The art of shopping in India: haggling

I think that shopping in India is something like experiencing the country in a nutshell. Depending on what you want, where you go, with whom you go and how you look the experiences are very different.

For example, I (gori) going to buy mangos at the street stall. Price: 120 rupees per kg. My SIL goes 5 min later: 12 rupees a kg!! That's 10% of the price!! My FIL walks over to his daughter and simply gives the salesman 10 rupees (for a kg) and walks away, issue settled. Now, I've traveled around quite a bit and hagling is something that I've come to accept as normal, but I am yet to find a place where it is more pervasive than India. Here even shops that advertize set prices will be open for negotiation and the sign seems to sit there only for the extra lazy customer to convince himself it is ok to pay the price given.

But many times I am this lazy customer. When I've been sitting in a store for over an hour, picking stuff, trying clothes on, etc I really don't feel like haggling. I admit shopping is not for me, so I usually just want to get over it... which is not the recommended state of mind when going to the counter to negotiate. It just seems like such a waste of energy! The vendor, on the other hand, feels like the haggling time is his time to show off all the drama he's learned over the years, so if you don't haggle he will almost surely be disappointed. I think the art of haggling is an intrinsic way of overcoming social barriers in India and showing off some skills: be prepared!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sari wearing training

After 2 days of shopping for my own, SIL, and other’s saris my MIL decided time has come to start my sari training. She gave me 3 polyester saris to wear around the house and on daily outings so I can get used to wearing one before the wedding.

To some extent it feels nice that she’s concerned about me not making a mess of myself during the ceremonies but on the other… the rolling eyes with which she looked at me when I came out this morning with the not-so-well wrapped sari around me shows that she did have higher expectations… Let’s see… so far the safety pins have saved me! And A. loves seeing me in a sari ;)

Shopping for bangles

Day 2 in India was spent with accessories and gifts. This means jewelry, bangles, fake hair (yes! Needed for a decent long braid), etc.

So first we went for the jewelry… I am usually someone that avoids golden colors. Well, this obviously is not an option in India. I also like discreet jewelry… not an alternative either (according to SIL: you are too fair and your saris are dark colors so you have to wear heavy jewelry otherwise it will not show…). I managed to buy just 2 sets, each matching 2 saris. One is golden with green and dark pink and the other is blue. I also got one for my mom… and she is usually even more averse than me regarding big jewelry hehehehe.

Next was the bangle shop. As we walked in the door, with the walls lined with all sorts and colors of neatly arranged bracelets my eyes twinkled at all the options… until I went to try some. My SIL knew her size and started ordering the colors and styles she wanted while I started my battle with the glass bangles. They are beautiful!! But made for Indian-standard sizes. At 5’9” and of German descent, I definitely do not fit the bill. So after breaking 2 bangles trying them on (with the incentive of the shop owner who insisted they would fit) she finally brought out the largest size she had: 2-10. With a lot of squeezing the bangles did make it through my hands but once in place I had no clue how on Earth I would get them off. Again, her help was needed. And then came the ordeal of trying different types and colors of bangles, all in the almost-impossible-to-squeeze-in size. My hand turned bright red and bangle marks were quite visible. I ended up buying 2 sets to use at my SIL’s wedding… and maybe will go back to get more if these make it through. I must say that feeling like a giant is definitely one of the things I do not like in India, but at least we all had had a laugh about "non-standard Indian size".

Wedding saris

My worldly possessions of a total of 1 sari has been multiplied by 5! First day in India, we arrived 9am and at 2pm already set out to go shopping for the wedding saris. A. stayed home (sleeping the jet lag off) while SIL, MIL, FIL and I went to a 5 story shop full of saris (and tons of other clothing). My MIL had shown me a simple maroon sari that she said I’d wear for the wedding and I had naively thought that the clothing issue had been taken care of. Not so… I was to pick 4 more saris to wear at different occasions during the wedding (including some quick changes from one to another in mid ceremony!). Considering the hassle of picking out a dress for my Brazilian wedding and taking into consideration that I’m frugal about spending money on clothes I will very rarely ever use again, I wasn’t too excited.

Also, there are designs, styles and colors that are appropriate for each of the saris I needed. So here we are… SIL was super helpful in dismissing the less flashy ones and picking some very ornate ones or some “interesting” color combination ones according to need (usually my initial options were discarded as too plain). I ended up with:

Simple saris:
- a watermelon-colored sari with green and gold borders (sounds weird but it is my favorite)
- a dark metallic blue sari with a picnic-tablecloth-style border in red and white

Grand saris:
- a blue and dark pink sari with golden embroidery
- a three colored sari (maroon, dark green and tan) with golden embroidery and border

I must admit I like some a lot more than others, but overall I liked the experience of sitting in comfy chairs overlooking piles and piles of neatly arranged saris and having a small battalion of men all set to bring, show and open any one you might like (with someone serving you water, soda, coffee every ½ hour). I also got a sari for my mom (hope she gets used enough to it to be able to wear it), and one for MIL. Added to the saris SIL bought, we exited the store 2:30 later with 16 pieces!! Quite a purchase!

Arriving in India!

You know you are in India when…

- People try to pass you in the immigration line.
- Luggage takes an hour to come out the carrousel.
- There are more people working in the airport gardens that you’d think possible.
- A police officer stops your taxi and hops on, without questions about whether it is ok or even where we were going.
- Honking… lot’s!
- Sugar with coffee… or chai

But overall (and so far) India has been much easier this time around. Much credit goes to SIL who came from Chennai to spend 2 days with us for wedding shopping (her own wedding and our are only 1 week apart!!). But it also helps that in laws and I knew what to expect of each other.