We were having a beautiful experience traveling through Spain; getting a sense of its history, enjoying exquisite scenery, and living the lives of jet-setters. Everyone we met was friendly, welcoming and pleasant.
Until we came upon her: an elderly local woman with a basket full of crocheted shawls. All I had to do was make initial eye contact and “my goose was cooked.” She earmarked me as a prospective customer, and nothing I could do could save me from those persistent eyes. She started to follow me across the church patio, holding up a shawl with a pleading expression on her face.
“Twenty five dollars,” she begged.
No, I said, walking away. But she persisted, following me across the plaza.
“Look. Beautiful,” she said, as she wrapped the shawl around my shoulders. “$25.00.”
Bargain with her, my inner voice coaxed. Don’t agree to the first price she offers.
Is it hand made? I asked. She held up her hands and pointed to her arthritic old fingers, signaling that she crocheted every stitch by hand. Along with the hand-showing she put on a pathetically sad, overworked, exhausted expression.
Poor old thing, I commiserated. She looks at my life, a traveling tourist able to afford the luxury of leaving my country to explore hers, while she labors away stitching these shawls. She probably sews in a room with poor light and uncomfortable back-breaking chairs. I’ll bet she lives with her family, including a bunch of small children whom she helps support. How can I haggle with her for a miserable few dollars?
I could always use a hand crocheted black shawl, I reasoned convincingly. So I gave in and paid her the full price she asked. I tucked my new purchase into my traveling bag and joined my husband and friends for a tour of the church. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a shop in town filled with local souvenirs.
There on display was a counter filled with identical shawls to the one I had just bought. Each shawl was enclosed in an individual plastic bag, indicating that it was factory made, not home sewn. On closer inspection I saw a small tag saying, “Made in China.”
They were selling for $15.00 apiece.