One of my favorite watches has been dead for several months now and today I finally picked up a replacement battery since we had to go to the battery store (yes, there’s a store for that). Ten minutes of minor surgery later, and it’s once again happily ticking away time.
I picked up this lovely time keeper in Cairo when we were there for Omar and Lora’s wedding (which was, in a word, fantastic). We started the day touring (well, actually it was just lunch at a house with a ridiculous view), and then ended the day at the souk Khan el-Khalili (a market). We wandered for hours, picked up a couple beautiful wraps, some cheap tourist trinkets and watched Chuck try to beat a backgammon salesman… at backgammon. I was also given a very reasonable offer of twelve camels for Paula (I opted to buy a necklace for her instead, which I’m fairly certain was the right move).
Tourism is tiring. Shopping is, however, exhausting. As time wore down and I hit my "done" point I wandered back out to the main square and waited in front of the al-Hussein Mosque for my fellow travelers to finish up their shopping.
While the other people in our party were wrapping up their day, the local sales people were also wrapping up theirs. An enterprising watch salesman noted I had wandered away from the safety of the flock and decided he’d try to make one final sale for the day. Approaching me with a big smile he proudly displayed the collection of watches he was holding and had running up his arm.
He grinned broadly; "Hello my friend!" (turns out I had a lot of friends in Egypt) "I have lovely watches. Rolex, Gucci, Tag."
I was done for the day and only barely interested, but I find I’m incapable of brushing off the omnipresent Egyptian buddy sales tactic, so I just smile and say: "No thanks."
"For you my friend, excellent price."
There was no way this guy was selling anything real, and I was shopped out. "I already have a watch."
I then made the mistake of looking down at his watches, and he took that as interest. He beamed: "Ah yes, Breitling, a very excellent watch, and for you, a very excellent price, two hundred."
I really had no need of a fake watch and should have looked for a quick exit, but after a day walking in the Egyptian heat I was all out of clever. Perhaps if I don’t have money, he’ll leave me alone. "No thank you, I’ve been shopping all day and I don’t have that much left."
My new friend decided that I was negotiating with him. "No, problem, I give you my best price, last sale of the day, one-fifty." Again he held up his watches, so they could better catch the fading light at the end of the day.
My travel-worn brain slowly worked out the problem, I shouldn’t have told him I don’t have enough… I should have told him I had nothing. I was staring at him blankly while I tried to work out why he was still trying to sell me a watch. I tried again: "I’ve spent my cash, I really have almost nothing left, I’m sorry."
The salesman shifted from one foot to the other and tried to decide if he really wanted to waste any more time on me before calling it a day. Then he checked his watch.
I was standing in front of a mosque in Egypt, evening prayers were just starting to be called, and a very friendly and industrious salesman loaded up with thirty-plus wristwatches was checking the time. The whole combination was all at once comical and surreal. I couldn’t help but be amused, and my pleasure was clearly visible on my face.
I wasn’t bluffing, I really was out of cash, so I might as well show him my hand so he’s not wasting time on me. I dug into my pocket and came up with several coins and a few bills. I pushed them around in my hand, counting out loud; "two, one, five, five…" The fatigue has sapped my energy, but at least I can still do math. I show him my sad financial state so he can go home: "twenty three is all I have left, sorry."
"Okay, deal." He nimbly plucks the coins and wilted bills from my palm and in their place deposits a shiny Breitling knock-off.
I was still staring dumbly at my hand when Paula and the others showed to pile into a bus.
Paula was curious about my new trinket: "What’d you get?"
"I think I just bought a watch."
We boarded the bus back to our hotel, settled into our air conditioned seats and did what all civilized people do… we started showing off our take. Purchases were passed around for our fellow travelers to admire. We regaled each other with tales of our bartering prowess.
Then Mike took a closer look at my new watch. "Hey Reeves…" he handed the watch back to me, "did you realize lunar and calendar dials on your watch face are just printed on?"
I laughed and took a closer look. He was right. The watch tells time like a boss, but the sub-dials on the face are just for show.
Omar then took a closer look. "It’s not a Breitling."
I laughed. "Of course it’s not. There’s no way a street salesman would be selling me a three thousand dollar watch for 23 Egyptian Pounds."
"No, it’s not a Breitling…" Omar continued, "It’s a Bretlinc!"
As it happened, my new faux-Breitling was not just a fake, it was a brazen, shameless, unapologetic fake. It has two buttons on the side that do nothing. The back claims the watch is waterproof, but I’m sure the wind would whistle through it if you held it just right in a light breeze. The weekday, month and moon phase dials are all as motionless as a painting… likely because they’re painted on. To top it all off… they didn’t even spell Breitling correctly.
My fake watch is a bad fake. And I love it.
Twenty three Egyptian Pounds worked out to about four dollars. Without a doubt… it’s the best four bucks I ever spent.