Everything Is Negotiable
It doesn't matter if it's a new piece of furniture, a sheshbesh game in the souk, a new apartment or peace in the Middle East.......Everything is negotiable here!
Having learned from our mentor, Yossi, how to bargain for a new apartment, new furniture, appliances, and ice cream cones, I now understand why all those idiots from the US State Department as well as the EU and UN can't make peace.
One cannot "make" peace in the Middle East. Arriving at Peace is a journey fraught with negotiation and ploys. Treaties cannot be reached with the likes of Arafat not just because he was a thug and a warlord, but because he was a Middle Eastern thug and warlord.
It's the "Middle Eastern" part that's important.
This is how you buy ice cream in the mall in Israel. You go up to the counter and ask the guy, how much for two scoops? He tells you it's ten shekels for two scoops. You look astounded and a bit offended and ask him, "What? Do I look like a tourist? I'll give you five shekels for two scoops."
"No way," he tells you. "The price is ten shekels for two scoops."
"I don't need YOUR ice cream. There's other shops here that sell ice cream, too."
"You won't get it for less than five shekels a scoop," he says, sounding bored and annoyed but not hiding the gleam in his eye.
Go upstairs to the next ice cream shop where the counter guy tells you it's five shekels per scoop.
"No way! Listen, I'll give you seven shekels for two scoops, how about that?"
"Okay," he says, scooping two generous heaps of ice cream on to the cone.
Walk downstairs again, stroll past the first ice cream counter and grin at the guy. "Two scoops for seven shekels," you tell him, smug grin in place.
Likewise, if you buy a home here, DON'T pay the asking price. Like lane lines, the asking price is just a suggestion. It's actually the contractor's dream sheet. NO Israeli pays the asking price because they know it is entirely fictitious.
We didn't know that. In California, housing prices are more or less negotiable, but usually not by tens of thousands of dollars.
We just sold a cottage in Modi'in (well, we think we sold it--all the parties are in agreement and we're waiting for the lawyers to put together a meet for the signing). Yossi asked us what we paid for the cottage. We told him, because he is now a member of the family. "Well, what was the asking price?" he inquired. We told him that, too. The asking price was the same as what we paid.
You cannot feel more inept or stupid than when an Israeli friend looks at you with the "I can't believe you did that" look, accompanied by a roll of the eyes.
"You two are not allowed to buy a bottle of water in this country unless I am with you," he muttered ominously, exposed to yet more proof that we are in need of adult Israeli supervision.
It's okay, though. We're not losing money on the deal, although as Tevya might put it, it's not going to make us a fortune either.
We've decided to stay in Jerusalem, so we went looking for an apartment. Smaller than a cottage, true, but we're down to one kid and cleaning one story sounds a lot better to me than cleaning three stories anyway....
BUT, we took Yossi with us to look at apartments. He can talk to all the kablanim in Hebrew; he is a native and not a sucker, oops, new immigrant from America; and he knows how to bargain and he's a tough customer when it comes to spending money.
After looking at a number of apartments in the area, Yossi found one that exactly fit our needs--then started bargaining with the kablan (contractor). First, he established that the asking price was fictional and in reality, the kablan would settle for $65,000 less than that fictional amount. Second, he established a payment schedule that fit OUR needs and not that of the contractor. This is a big plus for us--most contractors want 15% down, then installments every few months so that 80-90% is in their pocket before the apartment is completed. Yossi got the kablan to agree to 15% down, another 10% in a month and the BALANCE upon completion. Now he's taking us to kitchen stores, appliance stores and flooring stores to look at the items needed to finish the home and I expect that with him as our agent, we'll get it wholesale.
He also successfully browbeat our real estate agent into taking a smaller percentage for the sale of the Modi'in home. What did we know? Yossi knew that the going price is 2% plus tax; we didn't. So Yossi told our agent that he robbed us and we were going to pay 2% plus tax and if the agent didn't like it, No Sale. Since the agent, who was supposed to represent our interests, chose to sell the cottage to personal friends and bargained for them on their behalf, I was not at all upset at Yossi's in-your-face fee reduction in light of the agent's breach of fiduciary duty to us.
No one pays full price for furniture or appliances, either. If you go to the Hashmal store, you can get it cheap. If you go to any dealer, you can always bargain for cheaper. One of my women friends went to buy a twin mattress for her new daughter-in-law. Her son already had a mattress, and they needed a matching mattress. She found it in Talpiot, bargained with the owner for a price she was satisfied with, and told the owner it was a wedding present for her new daughter-in-law.
"Mazel tov!" the owner cried. "I'll throw in a free mattress cover for her," he offered.
"What do you mean, 'a free mattress cover'?" my friend asked. "I need TWO mattress covers! They're a couple now!"
She got both of the mattress covers. Free.
This takes time. This takes patience. This takes really knowing the territory. This takes throwing all of your western, free-market, capitalist or socialist or quasi-both notions of what agreements ought to be right out the window.
If the Quartet REALLY, seriously wants to "make peace in the Middle East," then they need to send their Harvard and Sorbonne diplomats to go work in the souk for a couple of years. THEN maybe they will have people in their diplomatic corps who really have a clue about how To Make A Deal in the Middle East. Sending more guns, more aid, more promises won't accomplish a thing. The Israelis have their agenda; the Palestinians have their agenda; the Iranians, Saudis and al Qaeda have their agenda.
The wheeling and dealing and negotiating and breaking off negotiations and talking and meeting and all the other smoke and mirrors will NOT stop until the Israelis realize that they won't get a better offer from the Palestinians (and that hasn't come close to happening yet) and the Palestinians realize that they won't get a better offer from the Israelis (which Arafat blew at Camp David, thinking like a souk dealer that he could intifada his way into a better deal), and Everyone Else gets firmly shut out.
We're a long way from peace, methinks. The wheeling and dealing is still going on, but its in flux and being handled by two very inept leaders of compromised governments.
Know what's funny? New cars are NOT negotiable. The sticker price IS the price. Go figure!