By Sandy Olson
Last week on impulse I stopped in at this boutique that advertises handcrafted women’s clothing.
As soon as I walked in I could tell there was something going on. There were three people in this small space. A white-haired man sat on a stool in the corner. He looked at me with friendly blue eyes but didn’t say anything.
His wife was a petite woman in her 70s, with gray hair, in a cut I privately think of as “nun’s day off.” She didn’t look at me. She had a problem. She was trying to make a point in English to the shopkeeper, whose head was down. He wasn’t saying anything loud enough for me to hear.
I decided that I could help fix the problem, whatever it was, in the interest of Pan American friendship.
I asked her what the problem was. She pointed to a blouse hanging on the wall. It was eye-catching, black, with vivid embroidered flowers. It would have looked beautiful on a young dark-haired Mexican girl.
I turned back to this little gray haired lady, who said, “This man’s wife made that blouse especially for me. I paid a deposit and the balance owing is 200 pesos. He says it’s 250. I’m not paying that.”
We all stood there for a few moments. Then the shopkeeper went to the phone to call his wife. As so often happens in life, she didn’t answer. Clearly he wasn’t going to budge from the 250 pesos until he heard from his wife.
The lady wasn’t budging either. She said to me, “I’m flying back to Canada early tomorrow morning and I have to have the blouse now.”
Stalemate. I looked over at her husband to see if he would break the tie, so to speak, but he just sat there quietly, eyes twinkling. He looked to me like one of those experienced husbands who knew when to stay out of things.
I decided to try reason. “Well, the difference between 200 pesos and 250 pesos owing is only 50 pesos. That’s about $3.50 in dollars,” forgetting she was Canadian.
She wasn’t impressed. “The balance was 200 pesos and that’s all I’m going to pay,” she said firmly. She wasn’t going to be taken in by this Mexican.
The shopkeeper picked up the phone again, dialed, and this time handed it to me. Still no answer. In haste I dropped the phone on the floor and bent to retrieve it. I was starting to feel surrounded by my own good intentions.
I saw a way out. “I’ll pay the 50 pesos,” I said. Her lips thinned. “No, you won’t!” she snapped. She wasn’t going to let me get cheated either. Was she thinking, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle?”
Feeling a little desperate by now, I looked to her husband for help one more time. He just sat and smiled.
On the third try the wife answered the phone. “Give her the blouse for 200 pesos,” she said. I was relieved. We could all go on with our lives. The shopkeeper wrapped the blouse and handed it to the lady.
Everybody won. She was vindicated and satisfied and she had her beautiful black blouse with the colorful flowers. Her husband managed to stay out of everything. I was pleased to have helped and even more relieved to escape. And the shopkeeper? We all got out of his store and out of his life—until the next high season, that is.
Was she thinking, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle?”