I met my haggling match at the Artisan's Market in Labadee
One of the few signs of the real Haiti at Labadee, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s development on Haiti's north coast, is the Artisan's Village, a long, inclined sand road lined irregularly on either side by wooden stalls.
The storefronts are filled sometimes to overflowing with clothes, carved wood items, paintings, plaques, hats, fans, jewelry and accessories, purses, boxes, baubles and musical instruments, among other things.
Show even the most casual interest in any of this and you will be talking to someone before you know it.
"Hey, mister, can I show you something?" said one shopkeeper. "My friend, my friend," beckoned another. "Where are you from?" tried a third.
I wanted to see what the Artisan's Market was all about, but I didn't really want to buy anything. So I went with a tried-and-true strategy: I didn't take any money with me off of the ship.
That way when approached I could honestly say I didn't have any cash. "I take your card," one shopkeeper kindly offered. I showed him my Sea Pass from the Harmony of the Seas. Not that kind of card. But I didn't bring a credit card either.
Then I made a mistake. I wandered into a shop that had something I was actually a little interested in: a long, carved wooden mask, similar to an African tribal mask, with some palm-like decoration at the top.
I could see a spot on my wall at home for such a mask.
"How much?" I asked.
"What do you want to pay?"
"How much?" I persisted.
"That one is $30." I went through my explanation about the cash. He made his counter about credit cards.
I was about to move on when the vendor, Oriel, did something unexpected. He wrapped the mask in a cheap plastic bag and pushed it toward me. "Take it to the ship," he said. "I trust you. Bring me the money back."
Oriel had seen a few people like me in his shop before. "No, no. I can't do that," I said. But the gambit impressed me. I don't know if Oriel really would have let me walk away with the mask, but if he was willing to offer, who was I to stand between the man and his $30?
I had to go back to the ship anyway to take care of some work. When I came back later with $25 in my pocket, Oriel was waiting. So was his competitor two stalls closer to the street, who did his best to poach me as a customer. But Oriel recognized me and fended him off.
"I think $25 is a fair price," I insisted before we got into a conversation. I suspect that $20 was closer to a fair price, and $15 might have been acceptable, but I didn't have all day. At any rate, Oriel took the $25 without an argument, and I took the mask.
But I'm going have to come up with a new shopping defense strategy for next time.