Restaurants, Real Estate and Retail: The Universal Language of Immigrants


*As understood by Americans: Reading Writing and Arithmetic.

*As understood by Immigrants: Restaurants, Real Estate, and Retail.

(Uhh … how come the immigrants managed to get the three that actually start with the letter R? Hmmm… Interesting.)

We’re Business People, Straight-Up Entrepreneurs

We don’t like to work for other people. It’s as simple as that. We like to be the boss and that’s that. We’re phenomenal when it comes to business. We’re merchants. Always were, always will be. If there’s something to sell, we’ll sell it. If there’s something you need, we’ll find it and sell it to you. Sometimes we’ll sell it to you, even if you’re not sure that you want to buy it.

We’re always hustling. And when it’s our turn to buy, we never accept the actual price, either—that’s just too insulting. It’s insulting to our inner-selves, our families, our ancestors and our heritage. We feel like we’ve betrayed our entire race. We just don’t do it. Actually, we can’t do it.

You see, we haggle. And we haggle—well. We can’t help but bring the price down lower than the seller’s asking price, sometimes even if it’s just one lousy, stinking penny. We just have to do it. It’s in our blood. And you know what? If we don’t do it, we feel like we just got ripped off. Like, we just got chumped. And nobody wants to feel like they just got chumped.

In rare cases, when we do accidentally slip off course (we all have those days) and end up paying more than we want to, we start to feel bad about ourselves and ugly things happen. It’s the beginnings of a diva’s inner rage. After running her mouth in a lengthy, unsuccessful attempt to lower the price, she’ll throw her right hand up in the air, lift her head up proudly, and shout, “Yalla! Khalas! Stifflay!” ( Loosely translated as a ticked-off, “Whatever! Forget you! Do whatever you want!”) As if it’s your fault that she spent more than she wanted to.

It doesn’t matter if it was already a steal, if we don’t haggle it down, we feel cheated. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I just know that we do. Trust me, it’s not about the money. We got the money. The only logical theory I could come up with is that it might have something to do with control (just guessing, here). It’s some internal issue that, when all is said and done, we need to feel that we were the ones who determined the final price of the merchandise, not them. Not the merchant who actually bought it wholesale. Not the guy who’s been in business for the past 35 years. Not the man who makes a living from retail. Not him. But us.

And boy do we get pissy when that doesn’t happen.

Our stiffee friends?

(From here on in, Stiffees, Mr. Stiff-Ass and/or Mr. Uptight refers to all the stiff, out of touch, ultraconservative, narrow-minded people who don’t have a sense of humor—regardless of race, color, creed or national origin.)

They’re a whole different breed all together. They just go right up to the counter, in a very calm and orderly fashion, politely present the merchandise with the $350 price tag, pull out their Visa card, and pay for it. Just like that.

Weird, isn’t it?

They make it simple. But not us. That’s way too uncomplicated a process for us to even think about.

Let me explain.

In the souk in Syria, I witnessed my sister Leila almost bring a grown man to tears. She bought merchandise from a shop owner probably valued at $500 for something like 25 bucks. She was in his store for two-and-a-half heat-sweltering, non-stop hours, trying to bring his price down for a bunch of gorgeous, hand-made serving trays, small mosaic end tables and intricately detailed gold-plated tea pots.


She wouldn’t let up. Not for a second. And, neither would he. That man was just as fierce. He couldn’t help himself either because, like her, it’s in his blood to haggle. And he was goin’ at it full force. He went right along with the game. Back and forth they went. Intensely. For hours. And not a point on the board. Tied 0–0. Playing hard. Fighting for the championship title. It was like watching the U.S. Open. Serena—Venus—Serena—Venus—Serena—Venus! But much sadder. More pathetic. And the guy just kept playing right into her hands. Finally, I just sat on a bucket, ate some pistachio nuts, waited and watched her crush this man. It was brutal.

Leila’s good. Leila’s real good. Poor guy, though. I don’t even think he realized what happened until it was all over and done with. Actually, I think that’s when it finally hit him. And it hit him hard. I heard the shop closed down. It’s just a vacant hole in the wall, now. Broken bottles, empty cans, stray cats running around. Some say he had a nervous breakdown. So sad.

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About Dalel B. Khalil

Dalel B. Khalil is a Syrian-American who just published FROM VEILS TO THONGS An Arab Chick’s Survival Guide to Balancing One’s Ethnic Identity in America. This hilarious, first-of-its kind book explains how to retain one’s sanity in the battle of the ultimate culture clash and offers hilarious explanations as to why we still have arranged marriages in this day and age! Most recently, Dalel spent 3 months in Syria where she traveled all over the country as well as to Lebanon, Jordan and Dubai. While in Damascus, she volunteered with Iraqi refugees and did public relations work with the Middle East Council of Churches—meeting directly with NGO’s and UN officials to see how Syria was dealing with the Iraqi refugee crisis. She engaged in many cross-cultural forums and multi-faith discussions to promote dialogue between the East and the West. She also got yelled at by rude taxi drivers who begged her to speak English because they didn’t quite understand her “ghetto-fabulous” Syrian accent. (Yill an…!) Prior to that, Dalel has worked as a reporter, anchor, talk show host and morning show co-host for three of Pittsburgh's top radio stations.

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