On March 15, 2019, we learned that 50-plus New Zealand Muslims had been shot to death by a bigot. His attacks on unarmed people at prayer left Mary Lou and I first speechless, then recalling our experiences with bigotry, and finally interactions we'd had with Islamic people. One such experience was a very enjoyable conversation when we attended an international statistical meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Neither of us had been to Morocco, and so the prospect of presenting papers there was exciting for that reason alone.
And we showed up a few days early and took the train (yes, the Marrakesh Express) so we could sightsee and buy treasures to take home before the meeting began.
One of the treasures was a leather jacket for me, a purchase that was enjoyable because we knew in advance that Arab merchants expect a lengthy price negotiation, that the initial price would be way too high by design, and that merchants expected to haggle -- something I really looked forward to though Mary Lou wanted no part of it. So when she’d finished helping me pick out the perfect jacket, she and our guide to the Souks (the marketplace) went outside to await developments.
The first of those developments was my asking the price of the jacket in question. This is an important question because any Souks merchant will interpret this to mean I’d agreed to make a purchase. All that was left was for he and I to agree on a price.
And so the man taking care of me was delighted to give me the outrageously high price that was consistent with his expectations, followed by my feigning apoplexy. Anything less would be unseemly, and so my response was further evidence of my interest in making a purchase.
My response to him ended with my counter lowball offer, which elicited his corresponding emotional response followed head shaking and, ultimately, a slight drop in his price.
And so our negotiation continued with our taking turns eliciting strong and emotional responses from each other followed by slight changes in our offers (mine going up, his down) interleaved with conversation about where I came from, that he’d never visited the states, sharing how many children we each had, and confirmation that Mary Lou and I were enjoying our visit to Morocco. In reality, and except for the fact that such interleaving of offers and counter offers with small talk is mandatory, occasionally shared some attributes with conversations I might have with a merchant back home.
Evidence that the merchant saw we were making progress (i.e., that the only thing to be decided was how much I’d pay for the jacket), came when a junior associate appeared bearing a tray with sweet green tea. And so we took a tea break, and, tea finished, we continued negotiations with each of us offering reasons the price should remain high on his part, come down on mine, with each pair of offers followed by more small talk.
Then he made a most interesting argument.
“Today is Friday,” he began, “and Friday is important day for Muslim man. And so you should give me good price.”
Whereupon I smiled broadly and replied “Friday is important to Jewish men, and I was raised Jewish. And so you should give me a good price.”
My heretofore sparring partner smiled broadly, held out his arms, and declared, “Cousin!”
And, of course, he was right -- members of his family and mine share both biblical ancestors and overlapping histories. But more important, and returning to the present day, both our families want the same things. And those things are definitely not the sort of disgusting, misguided actions taken by the New Zealand bigot and others like him.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who winters in Pima, Ariz., and, with his wife, summers in Debs.