Trust No One… Except Me

I’m still on vacation in Turkey and I often find myself negotiating for the best price.  Negotiation is essential here on a daily basis, particularly for tourists.  The key is access to information.  One must ascertain the real market value for an item solely by wrangling  over prices with merchants.  Finding the right price is a painstaking process of saying ‘No’ lots of times as you gather more data.  Finally, when you have enough, you can say ‘Yes’.

Often I’ll supplement the fact-finding part of negotiations by getting information from other merchants.  They are often only too happy to squeal on the real story behind a given item.  For example, the man selling us scarves was only too happy to talk about the rug salesmen, whom he described as inveterate con-men and thieves.  “They will say these carpets are hand made in Turkey,” he said, “But they will really be from sweat shops in China”.  He shook in disgust at their sneaky ways.  Then with a smile he offered me “the finest copper tableware of ‘the highest quality'”.

I’ve gained a lot of useful market information from these conversations with merchants.  I’ll often simply ask what the fair price of something should be, and Turks will often respond earnestly.  When I use that information later on an unsuspecting merchant, he may be dumbfounded and chagrined that I know the correct price.  It’s also easier to spot quality when another merchant has ‘taught’ you the ‘parameter space’ for a given type of item.

But a recurring theme throughout these conversations is that, while the merchant you’re talking to is a benevolent friend, all the other merchants are filthy liars who are not to be believed.  Again and again traders tell me how their peers are shambolic hucksters who cannot be trusted one iota.  They go to great lengths to describe their schemes, while professing none of their own.  It’s amusing.  But a salient lesson comes to the fore: trust no one.  So even as a I receive advice from a well-wishing merchant, I’m internally playing a double-meta guessing game, anticipating the deep strategy of deception they may-or-may-not be playing.

Just the other day, a merchant took extraordinary efforts to describe the scams of his peers in the pottery business.  It was an incredible performance.  But in the guise of giving me privileged information, I sensed a very deep sales strategy.  As he lured me in with partially true information, like any good counterintelligence strategy, he also positioned himself for a masterstroke of a deal.  At the end, I backpedalled.  And even now I wonder longingly about his story about the scams of others, where the truth ended and fantasy began.  When even the warnings of the scams of others is itself a scam, laden with half-truths, then you’ve dived deep into the mysteries of the market.

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