Happy New Year 2019
A TGB EXTRA: The Alex and Ronni Show

A TGB READER STORY: Market Dynamics

By Jack Handley - Diplomate, Curmudgeonology

I live in a small town facing a big river. Until the middle of the last century it had been a busy river port for timber schooners and barges carrying hay, grain, fruit and produce downriver from Sacramento to the big cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

It has escaped total dereliction only by also being the county seat. It's a fine, old American small town with alleys, vacant lots, an operating train station and barking backyard dogs.

It is also graced with a farmers' market held on blocked-off Main Street every Sunday (year-round, this being the West Coast).

I walk the town nearly every day and one Sunday several weeks ago while zigzagging between the double rows of market booths, I witnessed this interaction at a fruit stand. I suppose it was an exchange, of sorts. But not nearly a transaction, of sorts:

Old man: “I'd like a pound of the sweet peaches, please.”

Booth lady: “You choose them.” She points to the tray, and ducks down below the market scale to attend to something beneath it.

Old man stares at where she'd been standing. Looks at market scale. Looks at peaches, then walks off.

The booth lady rises into view, looks after retreating old man, then turns to her booth partner and mouthed, “Crazy old geezer.”

Me: “I suppose he wanted to buy some peaches.”

Booth lady: “Well, why didn't he, then?”

Me: “I mean, I suppose he wanted you to sell him some peaches.”

She stares at me. “Say what?”

Me: “Sell, sell. He was expecting you to sell him a pound of peaches. Like weigh out a pound of peaches and exchange them for his money.”

Booth lady: “This is a booth. You pick what you want — it's your choice, that's the idea — and put them in a plastic bag. I weigh the bag to find out how much, you pay, I hand you the bag, done, yes?” (pause) “I guess he was confused.”

Me: “I think he was just trying to simplify things. He wanted a pound of peaches, perhaps he only had two dollars, anyway the scale's on your side, so he can't weigh out a pound, he doesn't know how many peaches to a pound. So he thinks that, rather than put a bunch of peaches in a bag and hand them to you, and you weigh it and take out some, and then hand him the bag and take his two dollars, he'll just give you the bills and ask you to put two dollars-worth in the bag. Done.”

Booth lady: “Are you pulling my chain?”

Me: “No. Look. You go to France. You visit a local market square. You see a pile of nice peaches in a stall and decide to get a few to taste, not too many. You don't know French, you don't know a Euro from a franc, so you point to the peaches and hand the seller a one Euro note.

“He weighs out a Euro's worth, puts them in a plastic bag and hands it to you. See? Easy. No hassle.”

She rolls her eyes and makes a face to her partner. She turns back to me. “This ain't France.”

I walk away. I feel foolish. I sense her mouthing, “Crazy old geezer!”

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.


Love this story.

A great story. Made me smile - and sigh a little, too!

He wanted some peaches, she wanted her way, kind of sad. Great story!

Thank you, Jack, for this interesting little story with its moral involving transaction economics. Too bad the vendor was not more receptive to your gentle little lesson, but kudos to you for trying. Happy New Year!

Maybe the old man was lonely and wanted someone to talk and interact with as a part of his day.

I love the TGB Reader stories. This one, too, was great. And, yes, not a crazy old geezer at all, but someone operating according to a different set of customs.

Nearly a year ago I was in Naples. From there we took a day trip by one-car train about an hour outside the city to the small town where my mother was born and spent the first two years of her life. Hungry at lunch time, we headed for the small grocery shop to pick up some bread, cheese, a few things. For days, I had warned my husband not to touch the produce, having read in some guidebook that the customer must ask the grocer for the fruit, who will select it and bag it for you. It is, in Italy, considered very bad form for a customer to come in and handle the produce. So what happens, despite all that nagging? I immediately start picking through the luscious oranges myself, having completely forgotten to heed my own advice. This resulted in a very dirty look and a barked reprimand from the grocer. My knowledge of the local dialect wasn't good enough to understand what he said, but perhaps it included “Crazy Old Lady!”

Great story!

Having grown up in a largely Catholic environment in the San Francisco Bay Area, I did not know anything about East Coast techniques for market shopping. Years later, much to my horror I witnessed three elderly Jewish ladies at the Englishtown flea market haranguing a fish seller about his selection of salmon fillets. But as I watched, it slowly dawned on me that this was quite a normal ritual which both parties knew precisely how to conduct. They were actually enjoying themselves!

Good story! We learned a lot about the haggling that was expected in open-air markets during many visits to Mexico. My favorite story about that: When beautiful wife Sandy looked over some silver pieces, I stepped away to check out leather items at a nearby booth. I heard the conversation between Sandy and her vendor heat up as she bargained hard on the price of a pin she fancied. I was wearing a Green Bay Packers cap, something unusual in a country where many males were fervent Cowboy and Bronco football fans.
Suddenly, the vendor yelled, "All right lady, 12 dollars and his hat!"

Goodness, I had no idea there were unwritten rules about how to shop at a market. Maybe be cause I can't remember ever shopping at one. But I would certainly try to take my cue from the seller, and always be polite. I know I'd be no good at haggling over price.

Very funny, Jack. I can just see the exchange between you and the vendor. I think she is the crazy old biddy by avoiding learning something. She shows ignorance. Besides, the customer is always right.

Great story! The description of a small town with alleys, vacant lots, train station took me back to Cut Bank, Montana in the 50's. Thanks.

I love this story. Your gentle humor and wry observation made it a pleasure to read. I hope the old gentleman found peaches somewhere down the row. When one has a taste for sweet peaches, nothing else will do.

Lovely, and a little sad too. She missed an opportunity to be of use, be of help, maybe she'll ponder your attempt to show her a different way, maybe not. We all enjoy a smile, a feeling of being welcomed, no big deal, but the fun would kind of go out of it to be so summarily ignored. I hope he found a greeting and a smile farther down the row of vendors. Thanks, Jack.

Great story! And if she'd been kinder, more outgoing, open to learning from another human being, she's likely been able to "sell you a few peaches" too... instead she lost a sale, maybe two sales...

On my first trip to an IKEA store, I was surprised when, after piling all of my purchases (some of which was glassware) and the checkout lady pushing it through the scanner, I was expected to wrap (by myself)each of the six glasses in newspaper and then put it all in a bag without any help from the clerk. And then, I had to go home and assemble the shelf by myself while trying to figure out the instructions written in Swedish.

I can relate to this story having myself been reprimanded by a vendor in Paris for daring to touch the peaches. The trade-off was that, without having to touch or smell for myself, I got peaches that were peaches! And tomatoes that were tomatoes! And pears that were pears! Instead of the highly polished but tasteless commodities that pass for produce in most American markets. Maybe things have changed since the last time I saw Paris, but I can’t imagine that they have caught up with us in the art of selling objects that only appear to be fruits and vegetables and are in reality mostly grown to pose for decorative photos.

I'm left with a big smile on my face.

Love this story! Maybe he had a hearing problem and didn’t even understand what she said, then she seems to ignore him. Hard of hearing (HOH) people are often subjected to similar type misunderstandings. She was certainly insensitive even if his hearing was fine.

Haggling over price can be a way for some, even on Olvera St. — L.A.’s historic birthplace, Mexican Marketplace. I recall looking at a leather item there, then walking away. The seller must have assumed I was using the technique of feigning no interest which was his cue to “sell me” which he enthusiastically did. I really wasn't interested in buying but was almost tempted to engage with the process to see how much more he would reduce the price.

Nope, for sure, "this ain't France". Regrettably, I've never been to France, but this interaction is so typical of contemporary self-service in America. Most of the time I cope--what choice do we have?--but I must admit that in my old age, I miss gas station attendants! I hope I'm gone before grocery checkers are totally replaced by scanners--or robots.

The vendor surely lost one sale, quite possibly two, and obviously doesn't question her "sales" technique.

A perfect nugget of a story, love how you captured place and character.

Terrific ending!


Great story. She was a crazy old lady.

I wish she had chosen to be kind.

Hey, Bruce, maybe you didn’t understand the IKEA instructions because they were written, not in Swedish, but in hieroglyphics, a strange dialect that IKEA assumes everyone can decipher. I’m with you. I don’t get it either.

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