After our morning boat ride on the Ganges, our charming guide invited us to his house for chai. This sounded lovely; he was an engaging fellow and we didn’t want to be rude by turning him down. Besides, I love a good cup of chai.
The house was behind the silk shop of his “uncle,” a famous silk shop that the famous American actress Goldie Hawn visits every time she comes to Varanasi. They showed us pictures of Goldie sitting in the tiny living room where we were, at that moment, sitting. Same cushions, same floor, smoking cigarettes and drinking Cokes (Goldie, not us).
As we sipped the chai and ate the butter toast offered to us, a younger man began spreading out silk scarves, silk bed coverings and other beautiful things made out silk.
Uh oh…We’d actually been warned about this kind of thing; silk merchants steering hapless tourists fresh off the river into their notoriously high-priced shops. At that moment, though, we had no real idea how much the silk goods were actually worth—or how to gracefully get out of the awkward situation. Our heads were still buzzing from the whole Ganges-at-dawn experience.
After a few minutes, Brian had enough. He stood up and said firmly, “We’re done, thanks. We’re leaving.” Me and the kids, at that moment, were horrified by his rudeness (they did serve us chai and butter toast, after all). The prices for the scarves I was looking at did, however, come down. As we were walking out the door, a second scarf got thrown into the deal for even less than we paid for the first.
Only later, after replaying the entire scenario, did we dimly recall that we’d been forewarned about this kind of thing in Varanasi. We’d been completely sucked in by a routine scam! By evening, we doubted the guide was even related to the uncle. And the Goldie Hawn photos? Well, they were pretty authentic looking.
I’m embarrassed to admit we paid 5000 rupees (about $100 US) for two silk scarves.
Aaahh, well. Live and learn. Goldie, I’m sure, would agree.