Thursday, 8 November 2012

Chameleon craft market - an intimidating experience

On leaving Pilanesburg park, we drove back on the never-ending road to Haartbeespoort Dam, fearing for our lives the entire way, as our delicious lunches got chucked around inside our stomachs. We stopped at the Chameleon Market- the largest indoor craft market in South Africa.

Here we found many crafts made by local people; wooden carvings, tribal masks, pottery, stone bowls, jewellery, beaded items, paper and textile paintings.

To say the experience was intimidating would be an understatement; I was expecting a noisy hubbub of action - stallholders calling out their best prices, trying to attract customers in. Instead, the market was quieter than I had anticipated, with stallholders focusing on individual customers rather than trying to attract the masses. As soon as we entered, the stallholders surrounded us, inviting us to look at their items- most of which they had made themselves- asking our names, and trying to find out more about us so that they could suggest products we would like; our names, nationalities, how many people in our families, who we were buying presents for. Many reached out to shake our hands and introduce themselves, and in doing so, used the physical contact to drag the unwilling volunteer closer to their stall.

 Once you had entered a stall, the stallholder made it very difficult to leave, doing everything in their power to make you view their wares, only just stopping short of physically restraining you. "I give you good price" was repeated over and over again, and several stallholders told me that I was their first customer of the day - it was around 3pm so I feel this was closer to an attempt at emotional blackmail than it was at the truth, but I was boxed in between the stone bowls and the wooden giraffes, so who was I to argue?
The man who carved my wooden bowl - he drove a hard bargain!
 For someone like myself who dislikes being approached by shop assistants at home in the UK, it was far too much; if you passed a stall without stopping, the stallowner acted as though it was a personal insult. Again, I suspect that this was an attempt at emotional blackmail rather than a cultural norm. Other stallholders were more overt, begging us to support the struggling Zulu tribes by making even one small purchase from their stall (although once they had you looking at small items such as keyrings, they would subtly upgrade you until you were face to knee with a life size wooden giraffe.
Even when buying something, the stallholders had ways of trying to make you buy more; once you have paid, your item gets passed to another stallholder who will take it to their stall to wrap, forcing you to go to the other stall to collect your item. In the typical African way, they take their sweet time wrapping your purchase. all the while encouraging you to look at their wares with "no pressure to buy" (the intense watching of the eight surrounding stallholders waiting with baited breath to see if you bought anything suggests that there is indeed pressure).

I left largely unscathed, having fine-tuned my haggling skills in the process of buying two items;

A set of stone, giraffe bookends, for which the stallholder originally asked 800 Rand, but for which I eventually paid 250 Rand (about £18).

A carved wooden bowl, which I managed to reduce from 1200 Rand to 200 Rand (around £15).

Feeling mentally drained by the mental intensity of the market, we climbed wearily back into the minibus and headed for the Lion Park.

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