We went to Austin for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I had started to write about that, but it became long and boring, so rather than never post anything I think I’ll just give you a quick synopsis.
We went to Austin. It was Thanksgiving and we enjoyed not having turkey and relatives thrust upon us. We walked miles in search of breakfast, shops, and whatever else we happened to want just then but couldn’t find. We saw The King and I and Sideways. We ate Thai food because they don’t have that down here. We drank in nice bars, because they don’t have those either. And on the way home I got my shopping fix – we got a lovely red rug to pull the room together, pasta bowls the like of which we’ve wanted forever, and a few modest items of clothing. No presents for other people, just presents for us.
So then last weekend we went to Mexico in search of presents for other people. I had this notion that they’d have lovely soft blankets in muted colours like the one my Dad has that I purloined when I moved out because I liked it so much. I used to fall asleep on it, or under it, and it’s been part of my life for ever. But apparently they stopped making those sort of blankets 40 years ago, or else they just don’t get them in our part of the country. Everything either looked old and grubby and dull or had fluorescent orange and pink in it. Mexicans like their colour, oh yes they do. More colours? Roll up, come on in. Clashing colours? Just what we wanted. Take a seat. Blindingly bright primary colours? Please arrange yourselves beside one another to form fishes and Indians and diamond patterns as garishly as possible, so we can sell you to the silly gringos. “Subtle” is not a word they know. Or even “coordinating”. Or just “not putting every single colour you have in the same thing together”.
Nor had we reckoned on the bargaining. Silly me, I thought we’d walk into a shop, look at the pretty things, find something with a suitable price tag, and pay for it. Instead, first we ran the gauntlet through the Tourist Fodder Shopping Center as all the shop owners called out to us: “Over here, come in my shop.” “Come see my blankets.” “I have junk, you want junk?” (Junk? Isn’t that drugs? In this case, it seemed to be what they call nicknacks and gewgaws and stuff without a name.) “Special price for honeymooners, you come in my shop.” “Wedding rings, we sell you wedding rings.” Okay, which are we? Honeymooners or elopers? “Turn right, you see my shop, lovely things.” I instinctively turned left. Right at the end, we came to a shop with a little man in it who didn’t say anything. Encouraged, I went in and gingerly touched a rug. I didn’t like it much. He jumped up and started showing me more. King size, queen size, red, yellow, blue, serapes, blankets, hand made, very good quality. We really didn’t like anything there, but the interesting thing was that with no input at all on our part he beat himself down from his initial “very special price” of $30 to about $12 as we finally left the shop, protesting that we really truly didn’t want it, but we might come back later. Ah, the politeness of the Irish, trying to leave a shop without offending anyone.
So a valuable lesson was gleaned – we were supposed to bargain, and we could probably get them down to half price. Armed with our new knowledge we went somewhere else a while later and bought an enormous, but very nice, red diamond-patterned blanket. The initial “very special price, just for you” was $75. I offered 30, which was probably too much, but he made it clear that I was consigning his wife and 23 children to a life on the streets with no shoes and not a tamale to their name. We finally agreed on 40, though he was already putting it in a bag for us while we thought we were still discussing whether we really wanted it. Then the calculator came out to convert it to pesos, and we didn’t have quite enough – we only had 4000 even, which we were roughly estimating to be $40 but is really a bit less. He took what we had, as it was demonstrably all the cash we posessed. I’m sure his wife and children are currently rolling round in all the tamales they could want.