Monday, June 27, 2011

Bargaining in Dubai

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my goals for last week's stay in Dubai was to find the bargain shopping places instead of the big huge malls that make Dubai so famous. I wrote about the Dragon Mart and mentioned my plan to find a good designer handbag copy, which amounted to nothing. So, the next day I set out for round two.

I had originally decided to find the Dubai Antique Museum, which is supposed to be this huge warehouse filled with everything Arabic you could imagine. I had found a map to it while at home in Abu Dhabi, but forgot to bookmark it so I headed to the business center at the hotel to Google a map ... and couldn't find one that would allow it to be printed. (I know, I thought it was weird too). So, I copied down some basic directions thinking that a taxi driver would surely be able to find the place. Yeah, you can guess how that turned out, can't you? I hopped into the first taxi and, as I have learned to do here, first asked him if he knew the place ... he didn't. Then I read off my crude directions, still no luck, so I told him I'd find another taxi. He then told me that "no one knows this place, let me call someone". So, he called someone who also didn't know where the Dubai Ant EE Cue Museum was. I decided to go back into the hotel and see if the Concierge could help. Well, to make a loonngg story short(er), after some web searching, a phone call to the place and a clear impression that even if I did find it, I might have a hard time getting a taxi back, I decided to skip the trip and go somewhere else. But don't worry, next time I have the car in Dubai, I'll gladly take on the adventure of finding it - just didn't want to rack up a $100 cab ride and still end up lost. :)

So instead I went to the Al Karama market, which is an area of the city (called Karama) which is known for good handbag copies (as well as other things like jeans, sunglasses, perfumes, etc). This time, the taxi knew exactly where I was headed (whew!) Now this was a market! Lots of stores crammed with all kinds of cool stuff and shop owners beckoning you to "just have a look inside madam". I was in heaven and looking forward to bargaining for a good deal on a Louis Vuitton handbag copy.

Now, something you should know about the fake handbag trade is that there are frequent police raids in an effort to eliminate the selling of fakes (just like NYC) so the fakes are kept in upstairs or back rooms that are concealed behind fake walls or hidden doorways. And you have to be subtle about what you're looking for. I found this out the hard way as shop after shop was telling me they didn't have any copies. I finally browsed through one shop that was selling Coach purses and I happened to ask if they also carried Louis Vuitton. Well, I must have made a good impression because he asked his partner to bring some out from the back. While he was gone he told me that they have to be careful of the police and that "families are no problem. groups of women are no problem. but you, shopping alone, makes us nervous." Ahhhhh, that's why I was having some trouble. Well, now that I knew, I better understood and adjusted my approach.

Things then got a little easier and I think as the surrounding shop owners saw me hanging around for a while, they relaxed. I went into probably 10 different shops, each with their own way to 'hide the good stuff' - sometimes it was up the stairs and through a maze of hallways, sometimes it was across the street and in through the hidden door and one place had me wait in the store and they brought the options to me. And while the streets and the main stores didn't seem too crowded the secret rooms were bustling!

I finally settled on a LV handbag and negotiated the price. He started at 480 AED and I got him down to 350 AED (and insisted on a 'free gift' makeup bag to sweeten the deal). I probably could have worked harder, but I felt good about the deal and love the handbag so all was well. (I was tougher when bargaining for the wallet in another store and know I got a good price on that one!) :)

Then I found a souvenir shop and did some more bargaining and picked up some great presents for folks back home. By the time I got back to the Raffles hotel, I needed the bellhop to carry my bags! No seriously, I think I had 5 bags of stuff and there's no way the hotel staff would have let me schlep that up to my room myself. Customer service here means you are waited on, so to carry them myself would have  been considered rude ... I'm not kidding! So, I let them carry my bags and felt like a spoiled princess the rest of the afternoon. 

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