I had driven to Dubai across the desert to meet a friend. The Arab preference for fresh fruit juice means that street-side shops, with large collection of fruits and industrial-strength juicers, are common. I walked into one and ordered a glass, for a change, of pomegranate juice.
“How much do I owe you?”
“You owe me?” The store owner said with a noticeable frown. “I should be paying you!”
I was confused.
“I tell this stupid assistant of mine,” he added, “to make sure that we have a large stock of fruits every morning. I don’t want to lose face with customers who come in for fresh juice. So what does he do? When you asked for a glass of pomegranate juice, I found he didn’t get enough pomegranates for even one full glass of juice! I am ashamed that I had to give you only a half-glass of juice. It is outrageous.”
I tried my best to explain to the irate Arab that I had more than my fill of pomegranate juice and I was quite satisfied with the service. I would be honored, I said, if he would accept some payment for the juice I had. He refused to accept a cent. He insisted he had badly failed a guest.
A couple of weeks later, I felt my Abu Dhabi apartment was a little too quiet and needed some music. The feeling was provoked when I opened the Khaleej Times one morning in my 18th floor office on Hamdan Street and noticed a full-page ad of Bang and Olufsen music systems in a store just opposite my office building. It advertised three models: one basic, one high-end and one medium-level model with several attractive features. The last interested me, especially as the price seemed reasonable. I called the store, and a clerk identified himself as Khan and confirmed that the medium-level system was available for a price of $650.
I was about to leave for lunch and took the elevator to the ground level and walked across Hamdan Street to the store. I asked for Khan but a man in a flowing galabiya told me that Khan had stepped out of lunch, but that he, the store owner, would be glad to help me. I mentioned the middle-level music system I had noticed in the papers and my conversation with Khan, and expressed my intention to buy the model. He went to look for the model.
“I am sorry we don’t have that model. Possibly it is sold out.”
“But I just spoke to Khan a few minutes back and he confirmed that the model would be available,” I remonstrated.
The owner listened and thought.
“Khan told you the model would be available?” he asked.
“Yes, very clearly.”
“And you walked over, on this hot summer day, just to get the music system?” I nodded. I had actually walked less than five minutes.
“I don’t have that music system. Maybe Khan made a mistake, or maybe the ad was a mistake. But I don’t want you to go back empty-handed. Please take the high-end model, and just pay the price of the medium model.”
“But that is a difference of $300? I don’t want you to suffer a loss.”
“It doesn’t matter. It will be a shame if you have to go back from my store without a music system.”
He refused all negotiation on the price and insisted that I take the high-end model at the price of the lower model. All I could was to thank him and leave a trifle embarrassed.