Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let's go shopping!

Do you ever go to the shops just to do some window shopping? Or maybe meet a friend for coffee and then browse the shops as a way to relax and pass the time? When you go to the shops, is it a shopping centre, the high street or a mall? Maybe a combination of all three. For me, back in Australia, I would go to a shopping centre most often because it was closest. I would go to do my groceries and check the windows of the shops around as I pushed my trolley back to the car. Sometimes I would meet a friend for coffee at the same shopping centre.

In Australia, in my town, I had the choice of two shopping centres or the town centre when I went shopping. I usually chose either of the two shopping centres because it was convenient. The town centre has issues with parking, making it a frustrating trip most times. Visiting my sister in the UK I would go to either a shopping centre or the town centre on foot. Excursions to do the groceries required a drive with my sister as those shops are a bit further away from her home.

Grocery shopping in Australia was done entirely unbothered by a staff member, I even used the self serve checkouts (not to avoid people, but because it was so much quicker that way). Any other sort of shopping was a similarly solitary experience. Sales assistants in Australia, or at least in Mackay, prefer not to interact with potential customers. They prefer instead to pretend the customer has on an invisibility cloak or some such. Getting the attention of a sales assistant (who is usually found behind the counter - perhaps having a manicure crisis - or has disappeared into the back of the shop) is a challenge to the customer, even sometimes when the customer is standing at the counter, item next to the register, purse in hand. If a sales assistant actually approached me offering assistance I would be startled - although there exists some sort of special sales assistant radar so that I would only be approached when I didn't actually need any help.

So to Hurghada. Here there is one shopping centre, located about 20 minutes out of Hurghada. There, in the time honoured way of sales assistants you will be left alone for your shopping experience. However Hurghada itself is a different story. I live a short distance away from Sheraton Street. This is the main shopping street in Hurghada, it's a tourist street. It's lined with hotels and many little shops selling souvenirs. It also has other businesses such as the Metro closest to me where I do some of my grocery shopping.

Walking along Sheraton Street you will be more popular than you have ever been! The shopkeepers or their assistants sit on a chair outside the shop, and call out to the unwary shopper, asking 'Where are you from? What is your name?' or anything else they think will get your attention. If you stop to answer you are in trouble, and if you allow yourself to be led into their shop you are in more trouble. If mint tea is offered and accepted you may as well resign yourself to spending far more than you anticipated on something you probably don't even want, just because you want to do something since the shop keeper was so nice and friendly and gave you mint tea and it was so welcome to drink it on a hot day. Then you leave the shop carrying a bag easily identifiable as a souvenir shopping bag and so you become even more popular as you walk down the street.

Perhaps you have made friends with one of your hotel staff, or your tour guide. Perhaps he has offered to go shopping with you to protect you from these sharks. Well you still need to beware because he will most likely take you to a shop where he knows the shopkeeper. He will quote a price to you that seems very reasonable once you convert it into your currency. You are thrilled to have saved all this money and trouble so you buy most of your souvenirs from this shop. Alas for you, the price you have been quoted is actually the (inflated) price of the item plus the commission your 'friend' will be paid later from the shopkeeper.

So what do you do? If you have the time, don't do your shopping the first time you go to Sheraton Street (or Mamsha or the Marina). Get an idea of what is a reasonable price if you plan to buy a lot of items or you plan on buying some expensive items. This means shopping around, asking at different shops, haggling, and if necessary walking away. There are a lot of trashy souvenir items, but there are also some lovely things so take the time to look and don't buy everything from the first shop you enter. Brass ornaments and marble are plentiful and the prices vary tremendously so look before you buy!

Don't be pushed into buying, but if you really love something and you're never coming back then buy it! In the end it's only money. And expect to pay more than you need to. These people are on very low incomes, they need the extra the tourists pay for items. This does not mean that you should be completely ripped off, but paying a few pounds more is small change to you and may be a big help to the seller.

But what if you live here? Well I am a westerner, I'm a walking target when I go out. I have found what works best is to simply walk with purpose, ignore those who call out and don't stop to look in any shop windows. During the day there is much less of a problem. I can walk to the Metro or to the pet shop without anyone trying to cajole me into their shop. Sheraton Street by day is a bit dingy, the wear and tear shows, the desert dust coats everything. But at night it is lit up like a huge Christmas decoration. There are coloured lights, light up palm trees, all kinds of things to draw the eye and create a festive atmosphere. It's fun to walk along the street and people watch.

So what am I saying here? Shopkeepers will do their very best to part you from as much of your cash as possible. They will waylay you and be very nice and friendly even as they try to rip you off. It's part of the experience, and if you're careful you can get your items at a price reasonable to you, and that is all that really matters. In the end, if you feel it's a great price for what you bought, then you're happy and you've made the shopkeeper very happy! (If they throw in a small thing like a fridge magnet or a bracelet for free, well you just spent far too much!)

Shopping photo roll call:

In Mackay:

Canelands -

Mt Pleasant -

City Centre -

In Cambridge:

The Grafton - 

Cambridge city centre -

In Hurghada:

Senzo Shopping Mall -

Sheraton Street day -

Sheraton Street night -

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