Shoe Shopping In Delhi

OUR FIRST MORNING in India, my grown kids—whose father is from New Delhi—and I go shopping in the market nearby for chappals (sandals). The air is new-morning fresh with a hint of burning trash. Around us, shopkeepers are unlocking the padlocks on their shop fronts, rolling the garage-like doors up, and putting out displays of their wares. The sidewalks become crowded with racks of colorful clothing, stacks of luggage, and shelves of cookware.

“Come in, come in,” a shoe storeowner urges.

The young salesmen chat with us while the owner grabs sandals from a crowded wall display for my son to try on.

He picks a pair and the owner gives him a discounted price since we’re the first customers of the day. (In India, the first transaction is considered a harbinger of the day’s business, so it’s important.) Since we haven’t converted our dollars to rupees yet, the storeowner says he’ll take us to a moneychanger.

As we wind our way down a dusty side street, I do mental math to figure out how much the chappals cost in American money. That can’t be right, I think when I come up with seventy dollars. I decide I’ll let the moneychanger figure out the rupees-to-dollars conversion.

It’s seventy dollars.

In shock, I convert my money and follow the smiling shopkeeper back to his store. I whisper to my son that we are not buying chappals at this price. When we reach the shop, I tell the shopkeeper the sandals are too expensive.

He lowers the price, so now they’re fifty dollars.

“No,” I say. “Too much.”

A scowl clouds his face, and he begins to argue.

The narrow, shoe-filled shop closes in on us. We decide to leave, but the salesmen and the storeowner crowd together, blocking our way out. Gone are the friendly, smiling young men we’d chatted with earlier.

Frowning, my son pushes through them, and we follow. We walk down the street, glad to get away from such an uncomfortable experience.

But it’s not over yet.

The salesmen follow us. We walk faster, and they quicken their steps to keep up.

“You buy chappals,” they say, walking so closely their arms almost brush ours.

We ignore them and continue walking. The sidewalk displays are colorful blurs as I look straight ahead, my face hot with embarrassment at the scene the salesmen are creating and my pulse racing as I worry about how to make them leave us alone.

“Go away!” my son shouts, gesturing at the salesman nearest him.

The two men fall behind but keep yelling, “Give us money!” over and over for another block or two.

Eventually, they stop following us, but our earlier excitement at exploring India is gone. Deflated by our lack of experience shopping India-style, and feeling that we’re obvious greenhorns ripe for exploitation, we creep back to the hotel.

From now on, we agree, we’ll take a relative with us when we go shopping.

 Along with adventuring, Teresa Louis is also a writing coach. You can reach her at Teresa Louis Write Now.