After four weeks in India–on my third trip here–I realize that I don’t have time in this lifetime to master Hindi. Which saddens me, but it’s a fact of life.
I’ll keep working on it, keep learning and improving. I’m not too bad at figuring out what’s being said through listening, but this may be because of the shared vocabulary, English words that have made their way to Hindi, or personal or place names that are the same in both languages. But it’s such a rich, dense language, and so tied with culture, that often I hear a conversation and I think, “I can tell they’re talking about whether the window should be open or not. I just can’t figure out how there’s that much to talk about.”
Consider the difference in bargaining. Not the difference in scope of bargaining–in America, we generally only haggle over the prices of major items like cars and houses. But the practice is so different. I generally think of it happening with a note pad or calculator. The seller proposes a price by writing the number on the paper, or entering it on the calculator, and passes it to the buyer. The buyer then writes down a counter-offer and passes it back. Aside from any practical terms that may influence the negotiation, the motivations are left as unsaid and self-evident. Obviously, the seller wants as high a price as possible, and the buyer wants a low price. There’s no need to explain why.
So when I hear haggling in Hindi, I hear a lot of words on top of this. And I have to presume the meaning is something like this.
SELLER: I will sell you this for 400 rupees.
BUYER: Allow me to explain the complicated and mostly irrelevant reasons that I will only pay 100 for it.
S: Look at the quality of this item, and know that my wholesale cost is much greater, and that I would be quite foolish to part with it for 100. You should pay 400.
B: Now let me tell you the name of six other markets where I am certain I could get it for 50. And explain to me why you charge more than those markets.
S: Certainly, I’d be happy to explain to you the complicated and mostly irrelevant reasons I want to sell it for 400. My family needs money so badly.
B: And my family needs to hold on to our money more badly. But we also need to buy this from you, which is why I will give you 100.
Then after they run out of steam,
S: So, 250 it is?
B: 250 it is.
I can’t compete with that. I’ll never speak Hindi well enough to haggle the hell out of it. But I guess I’ll keep trying.