Monday, February 25, 2008
When Dominicans Haggle...
I didn't grow up hearing many stereotypes about Jews, I just knew that we (Dominicans) didn't like them. The focus was more on the fact that Jews didn't believe in Jesus and therefore, wouldn't be saved. No Jesus, no free pass to heaven. At least, that was more of the focus than say the stereotype about Jews being cheap. Ron Rifkin, my favorite Alias bad guy, said at the LimmudLA conference that he has refused to play the Jew in The Merchant of Venice several times and I think rightly so. Shakespeare may make up most of the canon of English literature but he'll never be accused of being a Jew-lover.
That said, when I saw my sister-in-law, T., haggle for a discount in Israel, it was quite a sight. She makes haggling a competitive sport. And little Dominican-American me can't even get on the court, forget playing the game. And in Israel, of course, she was haggling against a Jewish guy. The guy was begging for mercy as T. played him for a better price with words, nuances and cleverly delivered body movements.So, maybe getting the right deal isn't a Jewish thing so much as it is a Hausman thing.
For all the culture clashes that occur whenever I look at my baby sister-in-law, N., and think back to my childhood--the biggest question being: if I had done this, wouldn't my mom have killed me?--I have taken to heart that Hausmans stand up for themselves because they have enough cojones AND self-esteem not to let people walk all over them. This is something I've seen in Jewish friends too, more than in Dominican-American friends where I think there is more of an immigrant and a minority fear of the establishment, breaking the rules and diverging from the status quo. And today, speaking to a current green card holder, I was reminded that this fear was often rooted in being afraid of being deported, a fear that was passed on through generations. The establishment doesn't get messed with, it messes with you.
Now, here I am thinking of changing one of my gym memberships. As fibromyalgia out-patient and gym rat, I have two of course. I'm a member of the local Y and Curves. When I don't go to the Y, I feel good about myself. It's not just a gym, it's a JEWISH community center so I feel as if I'm making a charitable contribution. The problem is that lately, with the cold and snow and waiting for the bus in freezing weather, it really has turned into more of a donation than a gym membership. Nuff said, I love the Y. I love that when I'm there, I'm surrounded by Jews and every now and again, I run into a Dominican person and I feel at home doubly so.
But Ballys is down the block, people. Not oh-so-cold 30 blocks away like the Y. It's got that grimy gym feeling I hate. There are no kids or Jews or white people, for that matter, for miles. The pool is tiny and ugly but then no more than 3 people ever use it at a time anyway or well, ever. I'd be the only girl with a skirt over her pants, often the case at the Y anyway, but here, these people wouldn't even know that I was trying to be "modest" or "religious." At Bally's, I'd just be WEIRD, a girl with skirt issues.
And then they tried to haggle with us, two Dominican personal trainers, vying to get us to sign up. I made it worst by leaving and then coming back with a downtrodden, learning-at-yeshiva-all-day-tired husband. They thought they had us hooked. They played the game where there was a one-day limited time offer we just HAD to scoop up now before it was gone.
And I laughed aloud and in my head more heartily than I've done in a while during a culture clash. These Dominican guys are trying to haggle with a Jewish guy, with a Hausman? Fo' shame. They don't even know that they're toying with a grand master who makes the sport a fine art. In my former incarnation, I would have played the game and lost. I would have signed up. Limited time offer! Sign me up! Take my purse, my wallet, my keys, everything, I'm there. Sign. Me. Up. But the new-and-improved me knows that with a double-whammy Jewish and Hausman combo, I can come back and knock them out with a mean haggle.
Sign me up tomorrow, guys, on my terms. Because I own the game.
(Postscript: My family in the Dominican Republic does a mean haggle, too. During one particular haggle-a-thon at a mini-mall devoted to touristy items, my Dominican relatives in "DR" put on quite a show. I wasn't allowed to talk during the whole production, lest my Spanish mark me an American, a gringa, and thus cause prices to rocket into the stratosphere. What's their secret to haggling? I think, again, self-esteem, inherited business acumen, feeling comfortable in one's shoes, country and class.)