Dear Ali: I wanted to buy something at the market and I noticed that I had to bargain for the price; I paid more than I wanted to. When I told my friend about it, he smiled and said that Arabs are born with bargaining abilities. Is this true? Could you give me some advice on how to improve my own bargaining skills? SZ, Sharjah
Dear SZ: Yes, your friend is right. We Arabs do enjoy bargaining at any given opportunity. Let me explain it to you so you can understand it better. Bargaining has always been a great part of our lifestyle ever since the tribal days. Therefore, it's not only in our blood to beat down the price but it has also become a healthy kind of "natural sport", especially for we Emiratis, and Arabs in general.
Another aspect is that bargaining to us means making business with you. My suggestion to you is, next time, try to talk with the person in charge of the stand at the market or the store where you want to buy something. The same goes with prices during business negotiations. If you want to bargain, just remember to decline the first price that you get because then it won't become a bargain anymore.
When you do get into a bargaining situation, it's always a good idea not to mention any price until the requirements are defined and secure. Let's say you have a certain price in mind then stick to it with confidence. This attitude will benefit the negotiation with the counterpart. However, both parties need to be flexible enough to make an agreement. Reducing the price in a smart way is a sign of flexibility during negotiations and leads you to not drastically lower your price. Negotiating the price back and forth a couple of times is what makes bargaining a fun activity.
One last thing, never show any sign that you are desperate to buy or sell. Always show you have other options.
Why are women not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia but can do so in the UAE? MB, Al Ain
Dear MB: Well, you certainly have touched on a highly sensitive issue. I would also like to thank you for noticing the difference between the UAE and Saudi Arabia since there are still many people who believe that women aren't allowed to drive even in our country just because the UAE is also in the Arabian Gulf.
Unfortunately, in Saudi Arabia, women don't have the legal right to drive, and this places women in very difficult situations because they have to depend on someone else to help them, be it with the groceries, driving to the doctor, etc. The main reason for that is protection. Yes, believe it or not, it's to protect women from being in danger, but at the same time works to reduce other social issues, such as having boys following girls with their cars. I'm 100 per cent sure that many people in Saudia Arabia also don't wish to see women have the right to drive, but that doesn't mean they are right nor do I believe this is right.
However, I would say that Saudi Arabia needs just some extra time to start repealing this law. Perhaps to allow women to drive in certain places, such as Jeddah, then the capital and, step by step, until the people gradually accept the change.
By the way, almost every Gulf country had a time when women didn't drive as much as today. Yes, in our country, women always had the right to get a driving licence, but many families didn't allow their daughters to drive unless they had somebody with them, such as their brothers or father, and sometimes the maid. Step by step, the culture started to grow with the idea that women can drive. Now many are even better drivers than men, according to the reports of some insurance companies.
The point is, Saudia Arabia has their own reasons and we can't get into their business. I'm hopful that the Kingdom will find a solution that allows women to drive some day, inshallah.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.