Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Buddy, Can You Lend Me A Dime?

I read a very sad story in today's New York Times (see report) about a man who shoplifted an item costing US$4.99, for which he was short US$1. It's not a laughing matter and should not be confused with the sport of 'urban sprinting' shown in the video:

Urban Shoplifting - Watch more Free Videos

My wife says that I 'push the envelope'. I will treat this in its most positive sense. What she refers to is the fact that I rarely accept what is presented to me on a plate as all that I can have.I put that down to some part of my Jamaican upbringing: "We mus' do betta dan dat, man," or that "Me is som'body," attitude. It's a combination of demanding respect, but also not settling for what you're offered. Much of life is negotiation, like it or not, and usually first offers are not the best. If you have ever been to a souk and had to haggle you will understand the idea of 'best price'. At its worst see what happens when you make a legitimate insurance claim against a company determined not to pay out.

I have a very simple principle: if you ask for something, you know that the worst that will happen is that you will be refused, and you are no worse off, but your wish may be granted and then you are better off. Here's an example from my current trip. You want more fries? Ask for it, and challenge the notion that you have to pay extra.

A few days ago I arrived at Washington National Airport and saw a stand selling phone accessories. I asked the lady to say honestly whether her prices were good or not, and she said they were comparable to Radio Shack. I then asked the price of something and the lady told me US$19.99. I then said, "What price for two? Can we haggle?" "Sure," she replied I bought two items and I saw the bill was for US$20.99. I have a notion that I call "The Give", which allows people to be generous if they are given a chance.

Our man in the shoplifting story clearly did not feel he could negotiate even US$1, either for the price to be moved or to bring the extra money later. That is dreadful. His community should be aware that he has fallen on harder economic times, but clearly if it did know, he did not feel that he could present that and reason with the store clerk or owner. I have often been in a situation where I challenged a store clerk to offer a discount or waive some fee and if she or he could not to let me speak to the owner. In a big corporate store like Macy's the owner will not be available but the manager may have enough freedom to do something.

Yesterday I went to downtown Nassau seeking a Christmas present for that special person in my life. I found a car park but did not have any change. I told the lady that I would pay when I got back. "Leave me a dollar, and pay me the rest when you get back," she said. Where was I going? For sure, I would not abandon the car, unless it had been stolen, and if I am a crook, she was well rid of me before I roughed her up.

I went to a store to buy an item that was already on sale. I asked the man serving me if he knew about 'brawta' (a bonus, something extra), which is common in Jamaica, especially in markets. He told me he did not. So, I said, what discount if I buy two items. He thought, played with his calculator and showed me the price for the two. I said, "You can do better than that, man." He tapped again and down came the price. Both sides satisfied, we then close the deal.

Is it fear or vanity that stops us doing things like what I described? I have a notion that these thing generate more things like it. But, if you don't make your case you cannot expect anything. I have been unemployed and without money and never went hungry for one day. I am not a hustler and I have never begged in the sense of panhandling. Sure, some of us are brought up with the notion that we do not ask for anything. Even if you were, there is the argument about knowing what could be your dues. Those can sometimes be no more than compassion. A favour can always be repaid. I often joke offering to wash dishes if I cannot pay: I do mean it, so feed me.

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