Monday, May 21, 2007

Rate of Exchange

This one is culled from my journal from Egypt (which I happened to be looking through tonight, the fact that we got back almost exactly a year from today pure coincidence). Anyway, I found this gem under the title "Things I don't want to forget." But first, a little backstory is required.

So we're about 3/4 of the way through the trip and we're already quite weary of all the Egyptian vendors clamoring for bakshish (tips) and trying to sell us any number of cheap trinkets, but Dad has been looking for a t-shirt that a lot of the people on the trip had been buying, including the Aussie Dennis, Dad's new-found BFF (best friend forever in teen lingo). So he'd been shopping pretty hard, but...uh...the price was just never right.

And then it happened. Outside of one of the temples we visited, a local entrepreneur was selling the exact t-shirt that Dad wanted for the price of only five pounds (Egypt's currency is called "pounds" just like in England). Five Egyptian pounds is only about 80 cents. Oh, you should have seen the look of ecstasy that came over Dad's face at that moment. It was like he'd just been divined the answer to every single final Jeapordy question to the end of time. He thought he had the steal of the century. His countenance did not betray even a hint of guilt as he pulled out an Egyptian five pound note; in fact, his excitement was only intensified by the knowledge that our fellow travelers had paid over 10x as much for theirs. You could tell he was already forming a triumphant narrative in his mind to tell at the buffet line that night, especially to Dennis, who had been consistently one-upping us with all his tales of adventure.

But then the unthinkable happened. As the vendor saw that the five pounds Dad had pulled out of his man-purse was, in fact, the Egyptian variety, he shook his head violently and exclaimed: "No no no no no. Five ENGLISH pounds" (over $10 American). Such a switch of emotion has probably never been witnessed before or after that moment in the whole history of human civilization. Dad's head flushed harder than an industrial toilet as he shoved the five pounds back into his extra-security traveler's man-purse and then--with a gesture that, in any language, could only mean "this relationship is over"--he put the man-purse back under an extra layer of security, his Eddie Bauer traveler's polo, made with super sweat-wicking material.

But the local gentleman would not be so easily dissuaded from his sales venture. Wherever Dad went, the persistent gentleman followed right on his hip, offering final price after final price. Dad tried to say "No thanks" in the most disingenuous way possible, but that didn't work. He tried to ignore him, but that didn't work. He tried to pretend that he was browsing at a different store front, but that only increased the attention he was receiving from the local vendors. Dad sensed that his only refuge would be the bus. But as he made his way back to the parking area, he was horrified to see that a long line had already formed, and he would now have to either cut in line or showcase his negotiating tactics in front of our entire party.

Clearly, there was really only one choice here, the man's choice. So as he stood in line, his head still imitating a ripe Roma, he kept offering the man refusals, only now his tone had changed from deeply patronizing to patronizing with an awkward attempt at being humorous as he realized that everyone in our group was staring at him. Not wanting to come off as a cold, cheap tourist or as being extremely naive (in fact, our tour guide had warned us all that day of the "switcheroo" ploy as a staple in the Egyptian vendor's repertoire), Dad finally relented and bought the t-shirt, which our fellow travelers then forced him to display.

At this point readers, your souls are no doubt already deeply saddened by these tragic events. That is why with a heavy heart I must warn you that the worst is yet to come.

Tim and I spent the whole ride back to the ship reassuring Dad that he had made a good buy, that all was not lost. That he could still show his face in Cadillac upon our return. We stroked his ego like one would a trembling house cat. But then we got back to the ship and Dad finally had time to thoroughly examine his newly acquired t-shirt. As I saw his face crinkle with dismay I knew something was wrong. He called me over to him and asked if he could see the identical t-shirt that I had also bought that day.

With all the foreboding in the world I complied. He noticed right off that his was made of an inferior fabric. This realization was a severe blow, causing him to speak words that are not fit to repeat here.

But it was not the knock-out punch. Oh no. This came when I noticed his face reach a level of despair more dramatic than Caesar's looking into the eyes of Brutus. I could see his mind race back to that eager Egyptian vendor thinking, "Et tu, Abu?" I asked him what was wrong and, now rendered speechless by the shock, he simply turned the t-shirt around to reveal a long brown streak down the front of it that made it look like the salesman had just finished with it in the bathroom before selling it to Dad.

It is at this moment when Dad exclaimed this week's Quote of the Week. As he defiantly threw the t-shirt down on his bed he yelled "I'm not giving one more dime to those bastards!!!" Of course, only a day later he would be persuaded to buy this: