The Arabic markets; a chaotic explosion for all your senses. Sounds of vendors shouting, smells of all kinds of food, bright colors of fruit and vegetables and patterned fabrics, different languages and tastes (“Try this, lady. Best dates of country”. He turned me into a date-addict in that very moment. I ate half a kilo in mere days.). I absolutely loved it.
The Shuq is also the place where you NEED to haggle. My dad and I were both not very good at it. With not very good, I actually mean that we totally sucked at it and paid the highest prices for our groceries. Let’s be honest, we had no idea what we were doing. 28 shequels for a small piece of cheese? Okay, whatever. I don’t even know what kind of cheese this is, but it’s white and it doesn’t smell too crazy. “Bread please. Oh, you’re throwing in way more than we wanted. Ah well, okay then.” We might be a bit too kind for this kind of shopping.
Kindness costs you in Jerusalem. Not just money, it also costs you a lot of time. I learned quickly that I can’t walk around in the Old City like I usually do; smiling, greeting people and making eye-contact. Every step I took, salesmen swarmed to us like bees to honey. A gentle “No, thank you” didn’t always cut it. They have all kinds of techniques to make you stop and look at their spices, wooden crosses, fake golden tea cups or t-shirts.
For example, one young man shouted as we passed him: “Hey! Woman! You dropped something!”. Surely, I did not. I paid very close attention to my backpack and the only pockets I had were zipped closed. I turned around and slowly walked back, looking at the ground I just passed. “Really? What?”. A cheeky smile formed on his face. “My heart, lady. You dropped my heart.” Congratulations, my young Arabic friend, you just won the award of worst pick-up line ever.
Yet kindness is always worth it, even if it’s just to make a small difference in a city where everybody expects something in return. But kindness is also almost always rewarded. Let me tell you the story of my scarf…
I’m addicted to scarves. They protect this fair-skinned redhead for the hot Californian sun, and they save even my most boring outfits. So one souvenir I really wanted was a scarf from Israel. I happen to have an expensive taste, and the only scarves that I found even remotely interesting were the ones of genuine cashmere, hand-broided and made by locals. Needless to say, they were a bit above my budget. Until… kindness came back around.
One morning, we found ourselves helping one of the vendors write down a Dutch phrase. Although it was probably a strategy to get us inside his jewelry store, we didn’t mind. He was very thankful for our help and invited us for tea. We politely declined and moved on. That night, on our way back to the hostel, we ran into a guy who had complimented me the night before (“Beautiful eyes, my friend. I have a scarf that looks good, looks good.”) and invited us into his shop. We had agreed to come back later, which we had totally forgotten about. We didn’t even recognize him when we walked past, but he did. He insisted that I would take a look at that scarf that would suit my eyes so well. I gave in and I actually found a gorgeous blue scarf. But yet again, it was 100% cashmere, woven by hand and with a price of nearly 150 euro, way above my price range. I really wasn’t planning on spending more than 20 bucks, so I told him. Many minutes later, I had put the scarf back in his hands for at least 10 times and told him that the ‘special price for his friends’ of 50 euro was still too much for me. At that moment, a man walked in the store; the man we had helped with his Dutch that morning. He turned out to be the father of the flirting salesman, and the owner of the shop. “No, no, stop. These are my friends, they were very kind to me this morning. I don’t care what my son said, I will not allow you to pay more for it than I did. I give it to you for cost price.” Completely caught-off-guard, I walked out of the shop with a gorgeous, cashmere scarf for less than 20% of the original price. Kindness does pay off.
– This post is part of the DDIsrael16-series, with travel stories and pictures of my daddy-daughter trip to Israel. You can find all other posts here, you can find some other pictures on Instagram, and if you come back tomorrow, you can read about the special moment I had at the Western Wall during the Shabbat. –