One of my favorite ways to experience a culture is through shopping. You learn much about what a culture values when you observe it engaging in commerce. You also learn about the communication differences in how that culture buys and sells. Most mainstream Americans are quite used to going to a brand name store and paying the listed price for the item(s) they desire. Other cultures (and some American co-cultures) handle the shopping experience differently by engaging in bargaining or swapping.
Believe it or not, you do not have to leave the United States to experience a unique shopping experience. While visiting relatives in central Indiana at the end of the summer, I went to Lynch’s Croy Creek Trader Fair. This fair has been in operation every other weekend for an amazing 44 years. The fair sits on at least 40 acres in the middle of the Indiana woods. Thousands of people arrive at dawn to shop from the backs of pickup trucks, blankets and booths. For $3, you can buy or sell. (Children under 10 are admitted for free).
People can find ANYTHING at this fair. Seriously. On the cool Saturday morning that we went, there literally were guns, gas cans AND goats for sale. Of course the quality of items varies significantly. The guns ranged from new to secondhand. The gas cans were antiques. And the goats you may ask? Well, the goats were goats. In addition, there are concession areas. The crowd favorite was biscuits and gravy. Unfortunately, we had already had breakfast, so I didn’t get to sample them.
Now that you can picture the scene, let’s talk about the communication. Those vendors with new items typically had listed prices. For those with antique or secondhand goods, bargaining and swapping was the order of the morning. For those unfamiliar with bargaining, it is when the buyer and the seller negotiate the price of an item. Usually, the seller starts high and the buyer starts low. Eventually, they usually come to a “middle” ground that both parties can live with. At times, the seller does not budge much and the buyer must be willing to walk away. I saw happy exchanges. I also saw a few disgruntled ones where the bargaining had turned into haggling. Swapping is a different matter altogether. In this case both parties bring their items and look for someone who is willing to swap with them. Usually, you swap similar items.
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this family friendly event. It was certainly different than shopping at a Houston mall.
I agree with the locals’ saying: “if you can’t find it at Croy Creek, you don’t need it!”