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The Art: A ceramic statuette from Cancun, Mexico

The Story:

When I heard about a large local arts and crafts market in the town of Cancun, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a little of what the artisans had to offer, so I headed into town, still hungover from the previous night’s tequila games on the beach. Which, as it turned out, actually sharpened my bargaining skills in the market.

Coming from the land of price tags and shopping malls, bargaining wasn’t exactly my strong suit; in fact, I was a bargaining virgin lost in a sea of statuettes, jewellery, and pottery, all of which started to look the same to me. I searched through hundreds of what looked like identical trinkets, hoping to find the unusual or something that would distinguish itself as unique in some way. I worried that I would just be wasting money on very commonplace mass-produced pieces.

Masaai statuettes like these ones in Zanzibar all start to look the same when you're shopping for the unique.

Masaai statuettes like these ones in Zanzibar all start to look the same when you’re shopping for the unique.

Then I spotted this dusty statuette, high up on a shelf in one market stall, and was convinced that I had located the solitary piece worth bringing home.

That’s when my hangover came to my aid: having used up my last bit of energy browsing for this gem, I had no tolerance left for the ‘fun’ of negotiating, and after a brief exchange with the seller, I told him (completely truthfully) that I was exhausted and needed to leave. Turns out this became my bargaining edge, and the piece was mine for the last price I offered.

The seller cheerfully wrapped up my precious artefact in wads of newspaper, stuffed it into a Kotex shipping box, and tied it all up with multi-coloured lengths of twine. My one-of-a-kind Mayan statuette made it home in one piece (now there’s an ad for Kotex protection!) and once installed in my Toronto living room, looked exotic, rare, distinguished, and not at all mass-produced.

The irony? The piece is not unique, of course. In fact, on a day trip to Chichen Iza later that week, our bus stopped at a gas station/souvenir shop, and there was my Mayan lady, or rather, a dozen of my Mayan ladies, all lined up on the shelf beside the Doritos and Coca-Colas.

Climbing the Great Pyramid at Chichen Iza - another thing not to do when you are hungover. Thankfully, it is now off limits to even try.

Climbing the Great Pyramid at Chichen Iza – another thing not to do when you are hungover. Thankfully, it is now off limits to even try.

None of which matters when I look at her now, because I had learned a valuable lesson: what looks common or ordinary because you see it often or everywhere in another country, is exactly the kind of thing that looks exotic and unusual once you get it home. And if you liked it enough to negotiate for it in the first place, chances are it’s worth it for all those reasons and more.

The Fact: Bargaining is normal in many countries and many situations, and you shouldn’t feel like you are taking advantage of anyone because you try to bring the price down. When I need to put my bargaining hat on, I always remember something that my uncle told me:

“No one will sell something for less than he paid, and nobody buys something for more than they are willing to spend.”

So, decide what something is worth to you, and let that be your final price (with or without the hangover).

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