HOW MUCH?

When the moment comes for me to pay for something, I much prefer that it be a transaction, rather than a negotiation -- in the sense of negotiating a mine field. I detest situations in which the price is not fixed, but determined by competitive persuasion, intimidation, and extortion. These ugly situations are staged so that I must avert penury while trying to prove that I am neither a skinflint nor a swindler.

TIPPING

Too many employers pay sub-standard wages -- so that their employees are dependent on tips from customers, and the customers feel obliged to subsidize the rapacity of the employers. Such employers would probably be insulted if they were told that this is immoral, in spite of Luke 10.7: "The laborer is worthy of his hire."

Even when the above is not the case, there are too many situations where I am expected (actually, obliged) to play the wastrel, ignoring the fixed price and paying more. I am told the authentic price in a way that implies that both parties know that I will add something -- or else. This is true, for instance, of taxis with meters. The driver tells me what the meter says, but if I pay just that and no more, I will receive a tongue-lashing.
          Between flights, I stayed overnight at an airport hotel near London. The receptionist gave 
          me what was obviously his customary service..With a few words on the telephone and a 
          few clicks on his computer, he arranged a theater ticket, transportation to London and 
          back, and a midnight snack. He told me the price of these "extras," and I gave him some 
          cash. He said, "I'll just bring you your change," but his look spoke volumes. I was    
          suddenly aware that he could, with the same expertise, make me miss my flight, or lose 
          my suitcase. I hastened to say:"Oh, no, keep the change," and his oily smile returned,  
          and all was well.

Restaurants go even further. They add a compulsory tip to the check, calling it a "service charge." In spite of this, the patrons feel obliged to leave an additional tip in cash on the table. I have never heard the diners say that they are insulted by the insolence of imposing a mandatory tip, nor have I ever seen them refuse to pay it, nor have they ever failed to leave even more money on the table. Indeed, if the customers are so abject, why not take advantage of them?

The worst thing is a bribe disguised as a tip, most often encountered in a hotel or on a cruise ship. I press money into the hand of someone, as a gesture of gratitude for his having performed a service covered by the bill which I will eventually pay (like giving me the key to my room). This bribe, hopefully, buys my right to actually receive the services covered by my bill without having to fight for them. If it is not paid promptly and lavishly, I am branded as a cheapskate whose convenience is of no interest to the staff. It is wise to pay the bribe outright immediately, to ensure a pleasant stay or cruise.

I can gain control over the situation by displaying money. Then I am no longer the potential loser, trying to avoid paying. On the contrary, my opponent becomes the potential loser, trying to prevent me from returning that money to my wallet.
          Shortly after our marriage. my wife and I crossed the Atlantic by ship. Arriving at the 
          harbor, we discovered that the ship was a troopship, with no staterooms but only huge 
          dormitories. All the passengers were to occupy one dormitory, and all the others were 
          locked. Luckily for us, an uncle of mine had accompanied us to the harbor. He took us to 
          see the purser. He took a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet. While folding and unfolding 
          the hundred dollar bill, he explained that we were newlyweds, and that it would be 
          uncomfortable for us to spend two weeks in a dormitory with over a hundred other 
          passengers. He concluded by saying that the purser could easily open another dormitory 
          just for us, meanwhile folding the hundred dollar bill into the palm of his hand. The purser 
          agreed, they shook hands, and my uncle's hand came away empty. Thus the matter was 
          arranged to everyone's satisfaction.

VARIABLE PRICE

I detest situations in which no price is initially specified, so that I can be badgered when it is too late to withdraw. For example, the people who wheel wheelchairs in airports never even mention money. (Most don't speak English, or pretend not to speak English.) I have used their services many times, but I still don't know whether they are paid by the airport. I always give them money, probably more than they deserve.
          On a street in New York I happened on two shoeshine men. I needed a shoeshine, so I 
          just put my foot on the first man's stand without a word, and he set to work without a word. 
          When he finished, I asked him: "How much?" and he answered: "Whatever you want to 
          pay." There were several nasty replies on the tip of my tongue, but each man was twice  
          my size, and there were two of them. So I simply asked the other man: "What is the usual
          price?" They exchanged a triumphant glance, and the other man quoted a price that must  
          have been at least three times the norm. I could only comply, and make my escape.

When I remember this debacle, I console my wounded pride with Proverbs 20:17: "Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel."

BARGAINING AND HAGGLING

I detest situations in which the price is the outcome of a duel. The asking price is only the opening gambit. Then the buyer tries to drive the price down, while the seller tries to resist. This seems perfectly natural to those for whom bargaining is a way of life. It seemed natural to the patriarch Abraham, and oddly enough, not less so to God.
          Genesis 18:26 And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I  
          will spare all the place for their sakes. 27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I 
          have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes. 28 
          Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous, wilt thou destroy all the city for  
          lack of five? And he said, if I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it. 29 And he  
          spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he 
          said, I will not do it for forty's sake. 30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be 
          angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will 
          not do it, if I find thirty there. 31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak 
          unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not 
          destroy it for twenty's sake. 32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak 
          yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it 
          for ten's sake.

The above does not seem to be a dialog between a lowly mortal and the supreme deity. It seems to be merely a ritual conversation between equals, deeply entrenched in their common culture. Such people will not permit themselves, or others, to bypass the ritual.
          A tourist visiting me was intrigued by the Arab jars in which drinking water is always cold 
          because the porous earthenware sweats. She wanted to buy one. At that time they were 
          commonplace, sold everywhere and dirt cheap. But a tourist enjoys local color, so I took 
          her to a potter's workshop, where rows upon rows of such jars were drying in the sun. The 
          purchase could have taken no more than a moment. However, to the delight of my tourist, 
          the potter set out stools, and said: "Please sit down. I'll make coffee, and we'll discuss  
          the matter."

Unfortunately, the impersonal modern world imposes limits on the practice of haggling.
          As I watched, an elderly man, obviously a new immigrant, climbed onto the bus, and 
          asked the driver: "How much is the fare?" The driver told him, but he replied: "No. give me 
          a better price." The driver's answer showed his empathy. He did not consider the request 
          outrageous, but merely inappropriate for the bus, so he said: "I'm not selling tomatoes."

Byron wrote: "A bargain is in its very essence a hostile transaction." The motto of the vendors is Caveat emptor [Let the buyer beware]. It is bad enough when the encounter is one-on-one, but when a lone buyer faces a well-oiled marketing apparatus, he has little hope of escaping with a full wallet. Upon entering a shopping mall or a supermarket, I am beset by well-researched brainwashing techniques. Layout, display, packaging, pricing, color, lighting, floor covering, music, and scent, are all calculated to confuse me and to control my purchasing behavior. 
          After advanced study in the USA, I returned to Israel with enough cash to buy myself a 
          second-hand grand piano. There were only four professional dealers in Israel. I went to    
          one of them and tried several pianos, and we discussed prices. When I went to the 
          second, he seemed to be expecting me, and even seemed to know how much money I 
          could spend. After my visits to the third and fourth, it was obvious to me that they were  
          not competitors but confederates. I might choose which piano I wanted, but in the matter 
          of price I was at their mercy.

As I became assimilated, I acquired the knack of bargaining. I began to take a sadistic pleasure in defeating others who thought themselves experts. If their motto was Caveat emptor, then mine would be Caveat venditor [Let the seller beware]. One useful tactic was to walk away, thus seizing the initiative.
          In a shop window in the Old City of Jerusalem, I saw a lovely little chased brass bowl, and 
          I lusted for it. I accosted the Arab shopkeeper, and the ritual began. After a series of 
          offers and counter-offers, I felt that the negotiation was tending toward a conclusion that 
          was too costly. So I said: "I see that we cannot compromise. Forget about it," and walked 
          away. The result was all that I had hoped for. He ran after me down the street, waving the 
          brass bowl, and shouting: "Stop! Wait! What would you be willing to pay for it?" Seeing 
          my enemy delivered into my hands, I returned, and bought the bowl for a gratifyingly low 
          price. As we concluded the transaction, he boosted my ego by saying: "You are not an 
          Arab. Where did you learn to bargain like that?"

Another means of seizing the initiative, as noted above, is to display money.
          When I was elected treasurer of the Israel Musicological Society, I inherited a mess. 
          Copies of our journal, with its reports of the researches of our members, had been printed 
          but we did not have enough money to pay the printer. He refused to deliver the copies, so 
          we could not distribute them to our subscribers. I went to see him. After a short 
          preliminary conversation, I took out my checkbook and, holding my pen ready in my hand, 
          I said: "We do not have enough money to pay you in full. Neither you nor I can change 
          that. Now you have two options: 1. You will sue us. The case will drag on forever, with 
          lawyer's fees and court costs, and meanwhile the copies will be taking up space in your 
          warehouse. 2. Right now. I will write you a check dated today for half the amount, you will 
          give me the copies, and we will call it quits." It did not take him more than a moment to 
          choose option number 2, and all was well.

When I gloat about such victories, I quote to myself Proverbs 20:14: "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth."

Thus, it was not only Caveat emptor but also Caveat venditor. At some point, however, I asked myself, why caveat altogether? Must every transaction be hostile? Must all dealings be motivated by greed? Is human society nothing more than a flea market, a garage sale?

          ARITHMETIC TEACHER: How much is 4 x 5?
          WORLDLY-WISE PUPIL: Are you buying or selling?

I had come full circle. Once more, I detested such confrontational situations. Since then, I have avoided bargaining. Whenever possible, I buy where I am known and liked. or where I am a steady customer, and I pay without batting an eye. I leave tipping to others. I wonder if I could still beat a professional peddler, but I no longer yearn to do so. I prefer a quiet life.