Kalutara Stories and Tips

A bit of local shopping

Photo of Sri Lanka, Asia

Just outside of the hotel was a long street that was "littered" with shops for us tourists. Most of the stalls were full of local crafts and some others housed small seamstresses offering to "run up garments" overnight. The seamstresses were operating foot powered Singer sewing machines and would happily show you their meagre selection of material for you to choose from. These weren’t items that we wanted to buy and so although we happily responded to their pleas to "just look" we really felt that we’d disappointed them when we left without placing an order.

My wife was particularly interested in finding a carved elephant to take home and in all fairness she’d been on the look-out since we first visited India. The main problem was that there were too many to choose from. There were so many sizes, timbers and variations in posture. "I’ll know the one I want when I see it", was her plaintive sigh as we checked out the shops for the third time. She had seen one on a previous walk out, but now couldn’t recall which shop she’d seen it in! Over the two weeks we’d had a number of wanders around these shops and a large handbag, some Kandyan masks, a puzzle for our grandson and of course the elephants had been identified as possible purchases. It was refreshing that the majority of the shop owners were happy for you to just browse, but it seemed unusual to us as many countries that we’d visited before didn’t seem to understand the English pursuit of window shopping.

We were now "up against it" as it was our final night and we hadn’t yet purchased any of the items on my wife’s list. We headed off to the leather shop to check out the handbag that she’s seen earlier. The one she’d seen had now been sold but a very similar one had taken its place. The initial asking price was 3500 rupees, but the owner passed me a calculator to enter my opening offer. I was aware that Sri Lankans don’t operate to the same haggling rules as the likes of Turkey, Gambia and India so I was contemplating by opening offer when she suggested 1000 rupees. I obliged and entered 1000 into the calculator. She loved my response and grinning broadly knocked 300 off her initial price. The banter continued and finally at 2500 she stuck and refused to budge another rupee. I feigned great disappointment and she smiled saying "my final price". It was not a bad deal and so after a bit more huffing and puffing we agreed a price to both our satisfaction. The bag was ceremonially wrapped up and I was presented with a leather key ring as a symbol, I think, to the fun we’d had in bartering.

Next we head off to the craft shops to seek out an elephant. Soon we’d narrowed the choice down to three and my wife was to make a sudden and surprising decision. She preferred the cheapest of the three and so we headed back to the shop to cement the deal. Well it’s essential to negotiate and I finally knocked another 100 rupees (only 60 pence) off the bartered price. I just like to have the final say in these negotiations! The assistant (we think he was the son of the carver) shook me by the hand and placed two sets of tusks in the package – "he can have short or long tusks" he said with a smile. As a postscript I have to say, having got back home, he looks particularly fine.

Finally we visited a shop that we’d looked in on our first night in Kalutaru. The owner recognised us and treated us like long lost relatives. She told me that the masks were the price that she’s told us on the first night and as this price was significantly below what we’d seen in other shops I wasn’t too concerned when she wouldn’t reduce her price even for a multiple purchase. However, she did knock down the cost of the puzzle – not by much but enough to make us all experience the feel good factor -me for getting a bit of a discount and her for sorting me out a deal.

Shopping on this avenue of shops was fun and light-hearted and we as well as enjoying the experience we have some real nice souvenirs of our stay in Sri Lanka.

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