The mountain grown and freshly roasted coffee of Guatemala is famous around the world and here in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan I can purchase a rich cappuccino for 10 Quetzales or about $1.25. For me, this is a delicious treat and often times when coming back from the market, I will stop by one of the local cafés and get one to go.
This day, however, I decided to enjoy the cappuccino slowly, inside the shop, while watching the action outside on the street.
In the Dinosaur
So I’m in the Dinosaur Café when a small boy of about 8 years approaches me to purchase some of his mother’s hand woven note cards. These lovely cards are sold by all of the children here in Pana and some of the older kids can be quite persistent – past the point of my saying “no, thank you” or “I’m not interested today.” Often they can engage in a long winded debate with me that will last several blocks of walking through town and in the end, extracting a “Yes, maybe later” response. If I ever meet that child again and don’t buy a card, some will shout obscenities and accuse me of breaking a promise or lying to them.
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My policy now is to not begin the conversation at all and hasten my step after I have said “No, thank you.” It saves us both the trouble, even if it appears to be harsh on the surface.
Encountering an angel
This angel-of-a-child leaves me alone after my first “No” and I am most grateful. I see him approach a Gringo man with massive, wild, graying hair. This man doesn’t buy any cards either, but instead offers him a sweet delicacy from a box he recently purchased at the gourmet shop up the street. The child of course waits patiently while the old man struggles with the box’s wrappings and as I watch this scene, this sweet boy sneaks a peek at me.
Young girl selling stuffed animals
I can’t help but share a smile with him as it seems the simple act of giving him a piece of candy has taken several long minutes because the man cannot get the box open. And the boy and I both appreciate his energetic attempt to get the plastic shrink wrap off and open the box to reveal the fine prize inside.
Moving towards the sale
But did I blunder?
The fact that I met this child’s eyes and communicated by way of sharing a grin has now given him another fair chance to begin the bargaining game again and to approach me a second time.
I am sitting in a large wicker chair that is low to the ground and the boy is small. We are pretty much nose-to-nose now and the second level of contact has been made: I did not shoo him away.
He sits on the floor and begins giving me his spiel once again.
Will diversion work?
I try a diversion tactic by telling him his piece of nougat looks delicious and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it. Now the boy begins speaking to me in English about how I should purchase these cards for my boyfriend, my husband, my sister, my daughter, my son… and he goes on and on in practiced order. I am intrigued by this child for reasons only my heart knows, and I tell him in Spanish how good his English is and ask where he learned it.
These brothers sell their mime skills
“In the street” he says proudly in Spanish. I tell him that is where I learned my Spanish! We have something in common!
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Another product enters the game
We aren’t making any progress on me purchasing his note cards so he pulls out his collection of woven bracelets. These are made from scraps of thread left over from the women’s weavings, and the bracelets are about 3/8 of an inch wide and about 6 inches long, plus a tie thread on both ends.
I say to him, “Oh these are beautiful but I don’t want any” — and I touch them.
Moving on to level 3
I have now brought us to the 3rd level of the bargaining process; I have made physical contact with his product.
I know better than this but I can’t help myself. Once you touch something a vendor is selling, that is a move forward in the game. Every vendor knows this, even an 8 year old child. I love textiles and I had never seen these things up close and I wanted to take a look.
Okay, Okay, I’m up to my eyeballs in this now so I ask him his name. “Jesus (Hay-SOOS)” he replies.
Bracelets made from weaving scraps
“Did your Mom make these too?”
“Yes and I give you a good price.” He’ll sell me the whole packet for 10Q, the price of my cappuccino. I know that’s cheap and it is a good price.
I have no use for these things, and I’ve over packed as it is, so whatever I purchase is one more thing I have to carry. My mind is whining to myself and I think of purchasing them and giving them away to the next person I see… anything, now that I’m this far into the sales process. To disengage at this point is pretty rude.
Finishing the deal
Then Jesus whips out another packet of bracelets just like the first one and says that he’ll give them all to me for 15Q’s, just under $2. Of course, that’s a screaming deal too, and I still don’t need the first dozen and now I have TWO dozen… and I think “but the kid has to eat, and something besides this sugary nougat.”
So I say yes.
His face looks like Christmas and completely lights up. I get out my small change purse and ask him on purpose “How much did you say?” Jesus doesn’t miss a beat and says “20 Quetzales.”
“Oh no, Jesus, you told me 15” and his smile gets even larger because he knows he has not sold to a fool. This makes him very proud of his work and he can brag about this to his mother.
As I hand Jesus his 15Q, he reminds me that the price he gave me was good. It’s a cheap price.
To him I say “Jesus, I know. Thank you.”
Girl with sibling on her back has one cabbage to sell
Early childhood education
This young man is so happy, I can’t even describe it to you. He sold something fair and square and made 15Q. I don’t know if he is going to go purchase a solid lunch or if he will choose to take the money home to his mother. But the satisfaction that Jesus is feeling is written all over his body. He took my no’s and was still persistent. He made a sale and he looked like 15 Quetzales was more money he had seen in one location in his life.
Children in these 3rd World Countries all learn to bargain and sell. It’s a survival tool that they take with them into adulthood, and once learned, it can never be taken away. Their sense of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is mixed with communication skills and parents can proudly send them out into the world knowing they can fend for themselves.
This sort of training has been going on for centuries. I can only hope we are teaching our children something this useful as well.