I don’t like shopping. That’s an understatement. I hate shopping. I hate grocery shopping and clothes shopping; I hate gift shopping and shopping for electronics. I hate shopping in stores and shopping online.
And I hate it for several reasons.
First, I’m not good at it. The Wife, for instance, is good at grocery shopping. She knows how much things should cost and where they are. I know neither. It takes me 40 minutes to do a grocery run that would take her only 20. When The Wife and I go to the grocery store together, I feel like a little kid trying to keep up with his mother.
She knows where the tofu is located, and what the packaging looks like. I recently spent 10 minutes going up and down every aisle looking for this curd made from mashed soybeans, blissfully unaware that this is something refrigerated. The only advantage I find in grocery shopping is that by the time I leave the store, I’ve reached my goal of 10,000 daily steps.
I hate clothes shopping because I don’t know what size I wear in this country. In America, I know. Here, I don’t.
I’ve been in Israel for over 40 years, but ask me my shoe size, and I can only tell you what it is in American.
I know what my pants size is in Colorado, but have no clue what it is in Jerusalem. Same thing with the weather: I hear 25º Celsius and my mind draws a blank. But say 76° Fahrenheit and I’m automatically thinking balmy.
I hate shopping for gifts and electronics, because I never really know what I want when I walk into the store, and prefer just to look around unbothered, without facing an emotional tempest.
Some people like it when the salespeople ask if they need any help. I’m not among them. The very question — “Can I help you, sir?” — makes me nervous, feel obligated. I also feel guilty if I walk out of the store after the salesperson has asked so nicely if I needed any help.
I also don’t like shopping online. True, there is no danger online of anyone asking if you need help. But there are other dangers, such as whether what you purchase really looks like the picture of the item online. Plus, something often goes wrong when I buy online: either the color I want is out of stock, my computer will freeze, or there will be a glitch with my credit card when I check out.
There are two types of stores I used to like going to, but one is obsolete and the other is on its way out: record stores and bookstores. Remember those?
I could spend hours browsing through record stores and bookstores. Those stores had character. Flipping through hundreds of records in the bins was fun, even exciting. Browsing through shelf after shelf of books was peaceful and serene. It’s just not the same clicking through book titles on Amazon or looking for what to listen to on Spotify.
With that as my shopping background, I really had no business wading into the souk last month when I attended a three-day conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. But when in Manama, I was advised, do what the Manamians do . . . go to the souk.
Once there, however, I rediscovered that not only do I dislike shopping in stores where the price listed is the price paid, I dislike the shopping experience even more where the unwritten rule is that you have to haggle over the price.
I’m not from the great bargainers. Some folks like it. They like the whole dance: the interaction with the salesperson; the give-and-take; the satisfaction of paying less than what the shop owner first asked.
Not me. I don’t agree with William Butler Yeats’ adage, “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.” In Yeats’ equation, that merchant in the Bahraini souk is a potential friend.
At this point in my life, however, I’m not looking to turn strangers into friends; I’d be happy just to keep friends from turning into enemies. I’m not looking for interpersonal interaction with a Bahraini souvenir merchant; I’m just looking to buy a collectible spoon.
The give-and-take in getting the price down also doesn’t do it for me. The whole exchange seems silly and contrived. We all know how it will work out: The price on the item is jacked up to start with. I’ll offer him half of that, and in the end we’ll compromise in the middle between what he asked for and what I offered.
So why not just start there from the get-go? The charade — the feigning to walk out of the store, his chasing after me with a lower price — just seems pointless.
As far as the satisfaction of getting the seller to significantly lower his price, well, that’s something I’ve never had that much experience with. No matter how much I haggle, and even if I manage to bring down the price by 25%, I’ll still walk out of the store thinking the guy is laughing at me. That’s not a satisfying feeling.
I was advised to hide any outward signs of being Jewish or Israeli in the Bahrain souk. So, like so many of my coreligionists going incognito around the world, I slipped the ubiquitous baseball cap over my kippah, made sure my tzitzit were well tucked in, and kept the green T-shirt emblazoned with the name and insignia of my son’s IDF army unit in the suitcase back at the hotel — precautions, by the way, I also took last year in Ireland.
Those safeguards removed something else that would have made this shopping experience even less pleasurable: concern that the merchant — if he felt that I did not pay a fair price or was rude — would hold it not against me, but against my country and my people.
If I feel guilty walking out of a store after a clerk offers some assistance, imagine the burden that I’d carry knowing my behavior caused a merchant in Manama to rue the day his country signed the Abraham Accords. This takes shopping anxiety to uniquely Jewish heights.
Envy those cultures whose citizens’ minds are free from such concerns.
Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post.