I have rarely been so enticed to buy things! In Uzbekistan, there are endless shops filled with artisans, crafts, ceramics and all kinds of beautiful items I wanted to carry back home to the USA. Each shop owner smiled, and tried to lure me into their colorful areas, placing decorative silk scarves, coats, fabrics, etc. into my hands to caress.
Of course, any time I asked the price for an item the initial amount quoted was astronomical, thus it became very necessary to bargain with the locals. I traveled with my friend from Tbilisi, Georgia and she was uncomfortable with this style of negotiations because apparently it is not normal in Georgia. However, for Americans, it is totally ordinary to bargain at markets and it does not bother me at all. Maybe it is the lawyer in me, not sure. :) At the same time, there is a sort of ethical and moral issue when you engage in such tactics in poor countries like Uzbekistan.
1. I don't know what the average salary in Uzbekistan is, but I remember a local telling me that cotton pickers in the fields earn some dismal sum like $2 - $3 a day for their work. This is a very serious problem in Uzbekistan - slave labor of sorts in the cotton fields. Now artisans fall under a separate category, because they have a different skill set and invest significant time in their creations. For instance, this woman from whom I bought the table covering had all kinds of awards and diplomas for her embroidery. How much do you think I paid for the item? :)
2. There are all price levels of souvenirs, including dolls, puppets and human figurines. I completely fell in love with these plates! They are everywhere, varying in quality and design. I carried two home with me, and they now hang in my kitchen. Again, it became necessary to bargain with the sellers, as the initial prices quoted ranged from $10 - $40.
3. Hand-made ornaments! These were the most difficult to purchase and bargain for because there was a wife involved. Male sellers were much easier to negotiate with, but when the wife became part of the discussion, things became more complicated.
4. I'm pleased with my purchase, and the decoration now hangs brightly on my Christmas tree this year.
5. The most beautiful were the local coats! This clothing is a big part of what makes the streets of Uzbekistan so colorful, as most native women are wearing them.
6. We spent a lot of time trying on the designs of this woman. She was lovely, but spoke very limited English. Because my friend also wanted to buy some coats, we were able to negotiate the prices down quite a bit because we were buying four total. How much do you think we paid? :)
7. Do we look like natives? :)
How do you feel about bargaining? As a high-earning American, I don't mind contributing to the locals and paying a bit more to help the economy. However, there is a limit to the amount I am willing to be ripped off. It is not acceptable to pay 50% more than locals, for instance. But maybe 20% more is okay. I would estimate that on average, I paid about 20% more than necessary because at some point I began to feel guilty trying to get the price down in such a poor country. At the same time, there was no wish to be exploited.
What would you buy at these markets in Uzbekistan? The food markets will be covered in a different story, but they also are remarkable.
I'll show more of the locals and their creations when I write the posts about each city. Stay tuned....