¿Que?", and Mrs. Done by Forty starts talking in fluent Spanish, that they realize which one of us they need to talk to. Even if Mrs. Done by Forty starts speaking to someone in Spanish, they will just start talking to me as if I am the one who will understand them. It's kind of our ongoing joke now. Just yesterday when we were walking by a movie theater, some guy stopped me and asked me if this was the right line for "Thor". It was not a phrase I had practiced, so I had no idea what was going on...luckily Mrs. Done by Forty saved me again. (And yes, we did go to see Thor in 3D. Only 15 Soles..or $5.30.)
Today I have just a story today about a negotiation Mrs. Done by Forty tried here at the local UPS office. I mentioned earlier that she had to ship a few boxes of plant and soil samples for an article she is working on. The process of how to do this, burdened with permits from different countries and various forms that need to be included in the boxes and brought to the shipper, as well as finding someone locally to actually do so, has delayed the shipment for over a year. One of the reasons we wanted to come to Lima was to pick up the boxes from the home they've been sitting in, and to finally put this problem to bed.
There was some anxiety over the whole endeavor though. If we couldn't successfully ship the boxes due to paperwork being needed from some local government office or another, we were in a bad spot, as we no longer had a place to store them. (After a year of storage at this woman's house, we couldn't go to that well again.) And we couldn't bring them with us to Ecuador, either: if we couldn't ship them to the US we wouldn't be able to bring them across the Ecuadorian border, either. It was make or break time.
So yesterday we repacked the boxes, went to an internet cafe to print out all the various paperwork we needed, and hailed a cab to head over to San Ysidro: the business district in Lima and the location of the only UPS office in the city. When we arrived, the UPS workers opened two huge metal gates to let us in, and asked Mrs. Done by Forty for her passport when we arrived. (Apparently I look enough like a local that the workers weren't interested in seeing mine.) We lugged the boxes into the UPS office and saw three women working the front desk.
My wife came in and started explaining to the clerk that she needed to ship these plant and soil samples to the US, and wanted to charge them to a university UPS account. Right off the bat, they got off on the wrong foot. The clerk was saying we needed a print out from the University's account, which we didn't have, so we'd have to pay out of pocket. Mrs. Done by Forty was explaining that wasn't actually needed, and they started going around and around on the issue of payment before we even got to the real issues of permits, paperwork, etc.
Now, I wasn't actually understanding a lot of the conversation, but the tone was pretty clearly combative. At a break in the conversation I kind of whispered to my wife, "Remember to be nice. She's the gatekeeper. It'll go easier if she's on your side. Don't worry about the money...we just need them shipped."
And, readers, Mrs. Done by Forty totally flipped the switch. She turned on the charm, conceded on the payment issue, and totally won over the woman she was just arguing with. She asked her name and complimented on how nice it sounded, even mentioning it would be a cute name for our future daughter. Mrs. Done by Forty was asking questions about whether she liked working here, where to go in Lima, and, by the way, was everything in order with the paperwork? Not being able to add much to the conversation, I just smiled a lot and offered the use of the tape and scissors I had during the packing process, via a series of silent pantomimes.
After ten minutes, the clerk was smiling and helpful and on our side. Mrs. Done by Forth had gained an advocate, which really came in handy since a supervisor had to come out and approve all the paperwork before we could ship. The supervisor was opening the boxes and looking at samples, and the whole while our new friend, the clerk, was advocating for us...explaining that we had what we needed, everything was in order.
Long story short, I doubt we'd have gotten past the supervisor without this woman being on our side. There was an invoice form that we had in the wrong format. But, rather than sending us away, our clerk said we could just email it to her and she'd be sure to print it out and ship it with our boxes the next day.
Finally, we came to the issue of price. After weighing out the boxes she gave us the damage.
The missus then translated to me that this meant $680...dollars, not Soles. I asked if she'd be comfortable negotiating a bit, and she gave it a shot. Mrs. Done by Forty just nicely asked for a discount, noting that she was a university student, and she was planning on being able to use the university's account instead of paying out of pocket. Our clerk said she'd see what she could do, and offered a 10% discount. We were over the moon at that price, since $68 dollars is enough for us to cover all our meals for two days here. We both thanked her profusely over and over again.
And then, when the bill came, we saw it was only for $530. Instead of just $68, our new friend had taken $150 off the bill (more than a 22% discount). Mrs. Done by Forty saved us a small fortune in spending money here. Even though this wasn't a traditional negotiation of passing prices back and forth, I think it shows how simply finding the courage to ask for a discount, and being overly nice, can help a lot. Even when dealing with a corporation, whose prices you might normally think as fixed, it helps to smile and simply ask to pay less.
And readers, I can't tell you how proud I am of Mrs. Done by Forty. She normally passes those sort of price discussions to me and I'm usually all too happy to take the reigns. But being in a country in which I can say just a few dozen phrases has forced me to lean on my wife like I never have before, and it's proving to an eye opening experience. It's difficult and even a bit frustrating at times, since I fumble over simple conversations with waiters and clerks. But seeing my wife interacting with everyone here so naturally is truly awesome. It makes my heart smile, and I know I am in good hands.
Talk to you soon.