Of Bartering. [Go To The Mattresses.]

With Jess-a college roomate of mine who taught me what it looks like not to budge when you think you're right. :)

Much to my dismay, my team has informed me that I don’t look nearly as intimidating as I believe myself to be. This may have something to do with the unhappy fact that, when I approach anybody from the fruit man to the falafel man in this country, to my great chagrin they inevitably try to rip me off. My white skin acts as a sort of neon sign to all who see me-screaming “FREE MONEY!” on my behalf. To the utter disheartenment of every taxi driver in Senegal, I only look like an easy sell.

Now, it’s important that you understand a not-so-subtle nuance of this story. When I tell you that people try to rip me off, I’m not talking about your typical insignificant, unimpressive and rather forgettable 50% mark-up. I’m talking about a mark-up that’s anywhere from eight to twenty three times the going rate for whatever item it is that I’m bartering for. I meet their lofty prices with the sort of disdainful incredulity you might expect if someone had just drop kicked a puppy or set fire to an orphanage. I can’t help it-it makes me absolutely irate that anyone would try to cheat me simply because I’m a white woman! [Senegalese women are also cheated, and charged higher prices than are the men. That’s what you get when you live in a culture that devalues women as much as this one does.] The sheer audacity of it all baffles me. It only took a week or two of life in Senegal for that impossibly stubborn steak of mine to surface, and around day eleven in Dakar I decided that I was going to attempt to pay only what a Senegalese man would pay for things. A rather sublime goal, yes-but a girl has got to have hobbies!

Amusingly, I am continually confronted with people attempting to wring money out of me. This means that multiple times a day, unsuspecting Senegalese men will [with impressively straight faces!] offer me some sort of lamentably, obscenely ostentatious figure for a taxi ride or tomatoes. I have perfected my reaction down to the minutest detail. My blue eyes widen in mock disbelief, I gasp in horror, laugh disdainfully and whirl around to make my dramatic exit. This is always [and I mean always] met with a hurried cry of “Mademoiselle! Attends!” And thus, the battle bartering begins.

Taxi driver: Sept mille! [“Seven thousand!”]

Moi: Ha! La dernière fois j’ai payé mille francs. [“Oh PLEASE. The last time I paid one thousand!” It is important to note that in any given situation, this might be a complete lie. I may have never even considered venturing to that particular side of town before, but as far as my taxi driver nemesis is concerned, it is practically my second home.]

Taxi driver: [Shakes his head mournfully.] Oh! C’est pas bon! Deux mille, c’est bon. [“Oh, that’s no good! Two thousand is fair.”]

Moi: [Unimpressed.] J’habite en Senegal, je sais le pris. [“I live in Senegal, I know the price” with a very distinct undertone of “Just because I’m a toubab (white) doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”]

I will spare you the gory details, but every time, after approximately four incredibly impassioned minutes punctuated by shocked gasps and no less than seven theatrical faux-exits that really should get me an Oscar nod, I get my asking price. Every. Time. Sometimes that stubborn tenacity in me isn’t such a bad thing after all-I consistently get better prices than anyone on my team [including the men!] Last week, after yet another exhilarating, successful taxi “negotiation”, a slow grin spread across the begrudgingly impressed face of that rather surprised little man, and he remarked:

” Vous êtes un peu Sénégalais!” [You’re a little bit Senegalese!]

Why, merci. Indeed I am.


  1. Desiree says:

    That’s incredible.

  2. You’re hilarious AND insanely awesome – this made me die laughing at work (oops…hehe). Also, in true AshPete fashion, I sincerely hope that your title is a You’ve Got Mail quote, and not a Godfather quote ;)

  3. Desiree-I’ll bet you have some experience with this yourself! ;)

    Jaq-…CLEARLY You’ve Got Mail. :) Which we should watch together ASAP. I’m going to be in the US through Oct. 6-any chance you can steal away to NC before then?

  4. amen

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