Language of the Markets
As you fight your way through the streets, restaurants
markets of Sanur, Ubud and Kuta, you quickly realize that
there is a small selection of "standard" English greetings
and phrases used by many of the people involved in the tourist
greeting is always "Hello Mister/Missus/Boss",
usually followed immediately by "You want to come to my
shop?", or something similar. (Although, in Ubud, the whole
conversation often consists solely of the word "Transport?")
If you keep
walking, you will hear "Where are you going?". For many
people in Bali this is serves the same purpose as "How are
you going?" in the English-speaking world. The actual answer
is not relevant. (Just as few people are really interested in
how you really are going.) For Indonesians, it is usual to ask
someone out in the street where they are going, because, even
in modern Indonesia, there are still many people who have not
traveled more than a few kilometers from their village. An honest
answer to "Where?" you are going is more interesting
and acceptable to the inquirer than an honest "How?"
you are going.
If you have
stopped to browse and/or chat, you are asked
"Where do you come from?". Again, in a village, this
would be a natural question to ask a stranger. Once this topic
has been dealt with, the conversation turns to topics that seem
to verge on an invasion of privacy. However, people who grow up
in a country as populated as Indonesia have a different concept
of "personal space" to many born in countries such as
the United States and Australia. Answers to questions such as
"Are you travelling alone?" and "Are you married"
(both absolute certainties for women on their own) are of interest
to many young Indonesian men and women. A "Yes" to either,
or both, questions has led to many happy relationships.
Once the small
talk has been dealt with, it's down to business. "You want
one more?" is a common opening once the "salesperson"
spots the shirt/t-shirt/sarong/watch that you are already wearing.
(It would be interesting to find out how many people actually
buy a second item, once the opportunity to do so has been pointed
out to them.) For most people, this doesn't work, because they
are looking for something they haven't yet bought. This seems
to be not obvious for many stall holders.
practice, again, unlikely to encourage anyone to buy anything,
is to keep badgering the customer. Even though you have said "No",
probably more than once, and, possibly, in more than one language,
it is not understood as an absolute refusal. Again, how many people
will change their mind and buy, after having refused several times?
phrase in the Sanur beach markets is "Only two dollars!"(U.S.)
It is a mystery why this phrase has suddenly
become the only one in use, because most tourists in the area
would be carrying rupiah, Australian dollars or European currencies.
It is also interesting to note that, in other parts of Bali, "Only
one dollar!" is the cry - inflation? Since U.S.$2 is currently
worth at least Rp 17,000, and many of the items on sale can be
bought for half this amount, bargaining down to, at most, half
the opening amount is still economically smart.
are being tried on for size, "personal" remarks
about your body size, shape, colour, etc. are often made. To
the stall holder, they are honest, often helpful, observations,
and may help you to make a more satisfying purchase. As in many
other countries, being "large" is a sign of wealth,
and is usually complimented.
thing to remember is that, even though every
person with something to sell wants you to buy it, most stall
holders and street sellers have a genuine interest in people
and things foreign. Enjoy the conversations.