The Indian state of Punjab is famous for its beautiful hand-embroidered leather sandals. I was shopping for some of these shoes today at a little store run by a Sikh man wearing a bright purple turban named Jaspreet (or “Smarty”, as his business card says). I had been eyeing his colorful leather sandals all week and finally decided to drop in to have a look.
Much like shopping for patchwork materials in Rajasthan, Smarty preferred that I sit down on a bench while he brought shoes to me that he thought I would like. Now, that would be fine if Smarty knew me or my taste at all, but, well… he just didn’t.
Nope, my and Smarty’s tastes did not align. The first pair of shoes he brought me were something from The Wizard of Oz– closed-toed slippers literally covered in gold sequins, with a large split in the front of the toe box, as if I might have two gigantic toes that could split apart (I know my brother will have something snarky to add here – private joke)– nothing at all like the gorgeous light brown leather ones I had been eyeing on the wall.
The worst part about this approach was that we’d learned that saying “no” can be considered rude (…the Hindi word for “no” exists but it is not generally used except in extreme situations; for example, if an Indian person wants to say “no” they will avoid saying the word and will go to great lengths to convey the message in some other way, i.e. “I’ll check..”, “maybe later”, even if they know something is impossible). To avoid saying that I absolutely abhorred those shoes, I could only casually direct the conversation with each new pair of shoes that he brought me: “Maybe some with less sequins?”, “Ones with more light brown?”, or “Ones that look good.” All the while I was thinking, “Can’t I just point to the shoes that I want that are sitting right there on the wall and save us both a lot of time??”
I finally asked Smarty if I could stand up and look for myself– he looked a little disappointed, but he said yes (what could he have said– “no”? hehehe.) I picked out one pair I liked. He didn’t have my size, so he went into the back and brought out something he said would be “similar”. The ones I picked were light brown leather with a small amount of red embroidery on the side– the ones he brought me were black, with green and red flowers sewn into the top, with a bright red puff ball the size of a golf ball tied onto the top. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I tried them on, and I, of course, looked ridiculous. Was Smarty just playing with me at this point??
He continued, “I know you like those shoes on the wall, but I think this style is much better for your wide feet.” Smarty clearly had experience talking with women…
But he really decided to hit it home when I started to scan the wall again for other shoes to try: “Madam, don’t go looking at all of the selections hanging on the wall, all of the choices will just confuse you.” And with that, I decided to to rest my brain from the arduous task of looking at Smarty’s shoes any longer – permanently. After all, I wouldn’t want to risk getting too confused.