Friday, October 3, 2008

Buying eggs

Earlier this summer, I gave some advice to an American who was staying here for a few weeks. She spoke very little Azerbaijani or Russian, and hence found the market very daunting. This is understandable, although it's too bad because the market generally has better produce and cheaper prices than the stores.

I advised her to go to the market, shop, and note who treated her well & who did not. Don't return to the people who cheated you & just shop with the people who treated you well.

The bazaar economy is different from the economy that most Westerners are used to - where they can more or less efficiently seek out the best price for best quality . In the bazaar, personal relationships and reputations are much more importa)t than momentary price advantages. (Thanks to the late, great Clifford Geertz for exploring this theme in his work.)

Of course, I don't always follow my own advice. Usually I do. But sometimes I get swayed by variations in price or quality. About a month ago my regular egg merchant, for example, began selling eggs that seemed decidedly smaller than usual. I didn't stop buying them immediately, but last week I went to a different merchant. My regular guy saw me buying there! I felt like I was buying some sort of contraband. Caught! Very guilty. Today, I went back to him and bought my regular 10 eggs. He was polite & said the eggs were of good quality - although I mentioned that they were smaller.

When I was leaving, he said something to the effect of - "I saw you the other day. You should just shop here. You're my friend."

I had broken the law of the bazaar. He knew it & I knew it. I think I'm forgiven. After all, I have been quite a good customer over the last seven months or so. But I know that these offenses are noticed.