Sunday, October 10, 2004

A personal project - before I start work - has taken me back to Singapore for a few weeks.

Monday, October 04, 2004

I just had a conversation with an Algerian friend. She is a truly formidable woman in my humble opinion.

There is a common stereotype about the Arab world, which associates Arabs with the typical carpet salesman, the "bargain" type. Even negotiation professors use this example as the ideal negotiator. Some people argue that well conducted negotiations make for nearly perfect market as there would be no need for price discrimination. This only holds insofar as you consider all of these negotiations perfect...Guidebooks "educate" tourists to negotiate everything, even a 10th of a cent on a cab ride. Note that most of these guidebooks are written by non-natives who have extensively travel (not lived) in these countries and that not all of these books will get reviewe by natives.

My friend was telling me that in general and for most common items, people just pay the price on the tag. People will negotiate only if they have strong reasons for doing so. For instance, suppose that the quality advertised for an item differs greatly from the observable fact. If the price on the tag is associated with the advertised quality, it might not correspond to the value of the item. This can be grounds for negotiations. What I understood was that Arabs do not negotiate just for the sake of negotiating, because it is a "culture" thing. I can then also understand if they become irritated at tourists negotiating because it is "fun", because it is just a game. We were taught that everything is "negotiable" - unless it is clearly illegal. Does it make negotiating everything desirable?

We also talked about languages. My friend shared with me that Arabic was a language of love and passion. I can try to talk about languages I am more familiar with. I experience Spanish as a language of passion and fire. It has Arabic roots. I experience French and Italian as languages of love. They have latin roots, and French slang contains a lot of Arabic terms.

Poetry does not translate well. It would be difficult to appreciate the beauty of a Pushkin or a Goethe poem without reading it in its original form. However, for many of us, a translation will be the only way to get exposed to the diversity and richness of poetry in Arabic. This culture offers many poems, songs and stories which are well worth discovering.