Monday, May 7, 2007

No Use Crying Over 5,000 Shillings

Wednesday morning P. took me to Ggaba Road where many of the furniture makers have set up shop. I was looking for my writing table. I wanted a slab of wood on four legs, nothing elaborate, nothing fancy. At our first stop they had a six-foot long, light-colored table. Simple, clean, sturdy. We negotiated a price. I hadn’t planned on buying chairs with it because I thought I would get an office chair with an adjustable seat and lumbar support, but I decided to see how much two chairs would be with the table. I thought the price was too high so I told the guy, who was a kid really, maybe 17-years-old, that I would just take the table. Then P. suggested I take a look at the bookcases. Transport being extra, it would be a shame to decide later that we wanted a bookcase and have to pay the transport fee all over again. So I decided what kind of deal I could get on the table, two chairs, AND a bookcase.

P. and I agreed on a price, which P. then brought to the kid. Much arguing ensued. P. and the kid took the price to an older woman sitting in the back. She would not budge either. More arguing ensued. It amounted to a difference of Ush5,000 (about $3). I was about to give in. What was Ush5,000 to me? But then P. turned and told me we were going next door. He felt they were being unreasonable.

I was elated by this move. When my old job sent me to the Stanford Publishing Institute two summers ago, we had a session on negotiating taught by a professor from the Business School. I can’t say I have much experiencing negotiating, which in publishing falls more to the editors and agents than it did to me in my capacity in Marketing. Here I finally have a chance to put the skills learned at this Stanford negotiating session to the test. P. and I had maximum price and we were willing to walk away. I felt very proud.

We went next door (and when I say next door, keep in mind that there are no buildings and that everything is outside) where they had identical furniture. P. and I started bargaining for the same set of furniture: a table, two chairs, and a bookcase. We arrived at the exact same impasse of a USh5,000 difference between what they wanted us to pay and what we wanted to pay. I didn’t see how I could now pay this vendor the extra 5,000 when I wouldn’t pay the other vendor the same amount. I began to get uncomfortable. I couldn’t give in. We would have to walk away again.

And then, finally, the guy said okay. He would come down on the price. I repeated the amount. He shook his head, yes. I shook his hand and again repeated the price. Everyone smiled. I paid the man.

I walked over to where P. was arranging transport with the man with the pick-up truck. “Madam!” the man I had just given my money to called over to me. I walked back over. “You have not given me enough,” he said.

“That’s the amount we agreed upon,” I said.

“No, we have miscalculated. You must give us another 5,000.” He took out his cell phone and started entering in the price of each piece of furniture into the calculator function. He showed me the screen.

“Yes,” I said, “but you said you would give me a discount. We agreed on the amount.”

“We miscalculated. See?” He showed me the cell phone again. “We miscalculated. It is another 5,000.”

I called P. over. Another heated argument. It was never about the Ush5,000. It was the principle of the thing—the fact that he was trying to go back on his word, yes. But there also seems to be a tacit agreement that white ex-pats pay more than Ugandans. It’s always part of the negotiation process, trying to figure out how much a Ugandan would pay and then seeing how close we can get to that. Having P. there helps us get a better deal, definitely. But I still had the feeling these guys saw a white lady and thought they could milk me. Except that the first vendor had let me walk away with very little argument, so maybe I was wrong.

I don’t know what P. said, but soon enough we were able to walk away without paying anything more. We loaded the truck and left.

When we got back to the apartment, the driver and another guy unloaded the furniture. Transport was Ush12,000 and I planned on tipping each of the two guys Ush1,000-2,000. But I only had a 20,000 note. I had a 10,000 but no change. I scoured the apartment but couldn’t come up with anything. P. had no small change either. There was nothing else to do: I gave the two guys the 20,000—about 5,000 too much.

Pics of the new furniture tk shortly. Promise.

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