Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Socio-Economic Hierarchy of Iraqi Salesmen

Catholicgauze writes from Iraqi describing his thoughts on salesmanship

"Hello my friend!" "Yes, yes, yes." "Please come in."

Those words I hear often. Fortunately for me I now have a good reputation so the words now have meaning behind them, but every American who visits an Iraqi shop is likely to hear that. After hearing these words and seeing the various shops many times, I noticed there is a hierarchy of salesmen. This hierarchy correlates with the status of the Iraqi and reflects how the average American will view the seller.

Common Iraqi
Who: Anyone but tendency towards older couple, sometimes women
Goods: General, things found in the household
Where: Anywhere, sometimes along roads

Common Iraqis were the first to sell to Americans. These people simply set up a table and displayed all their stuff on a blanket. They offer nothing fancy but in their supply of plates, homemade blankets, etc. are a few pieces of gold jewelry, small handmade furniture, and old Iraqi army equipment. Common Iraqis speak little to no English but can communicate the necessary "ten dollars" and "thank you."

Iraqi Salesman
Who: Moderately educated person with a supply chain
Goods: Things like flags, blade weaponry, electronics, and ornamental goods.
Where: The skillful ones are found on American bases

The Iraqi salesman has thousands of years of Arab trader culture in his blood, a good supply chain, and a decent command of English. They can be very talkative and friendly if one wants to start a conversation. Iraqi salesmen frequently go on month long trips to American bases and send the money back home. Many have worked with both the American military and Iraqi government to allow shops to be placed on bases. Unfortunately, groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq hate these people as collaborators and I have heard of a few who were murdered in the past.

Iraqi DVD Pirate
Who: Younger males with Internet access and a DVD burner
Goods: DVDs of movies, television shows, and documentaries
Where: American bases

Want to see Twilight but you are over 1,000 miles away from an English movie theater? Need a 2001 National Geographic documentary? Well, if the Iraqi DVD Pirate does not have it, he can go online and burn you a copy for five dollars. These pirates work in groups and will live on bases like Iraqi salesmen. Most have a fair understanding of English but have a great knowledge of [American] pop culture. Trustworthiness is determined by Americans by the basis of the DVD's quality. Some are poor video camera feed while others were produced by professional equipment in a movie theater. The best quality is the straight DVD rip. There are legitimate American DVDs for sale on base but those are full price. The Iraqi DVD pirate is the unchallenged master of his field.

Iraqi Seamster [tailor]
Who: Iraqi (and some Indian) men with knowledge of the sewing machine
Goods: Anything that can be sewn
Where: American bases

Iraqi sewers have broad appeal with a higher priced product. Want an Iraqi flag with your name and dates of service on it? Sure thing! Want backpack with military camouflage and your favorite football team's logo on it? No problem. These men show that there is profit and no shame in male sewing. They work in groups with only one person who needs to know English. Some Indians have come over as well to earn money with their skills. Officers, group leaders, and the memento seeking enlisted man are all primary customers of the Iraqi seamster.

The Turks
Who: Turkish traders
Goods: If it is expensive, they have it
Where: American bases

The Turks are an outsider but they are on top of the hierarchy. Leather coats; $500 handmade marble chess sets; jewelry; and fine carpets are their goods. The Turks occupy a sort of mixed ground. They have the Middle Eastern background but many would be best defined as European based on their clothing (especially the liberated women). Some Turkish stories have Iraqis who help the customers look for things while the Turks handle the money. Every American who is on a base knows that when one goes shopping at the Turkish store, one wants to buy some fine gifts.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating "cultural geography" as well as a view of life in Iraq one does not see in U.S. publications. In hindsight, the trading you describe is what I would have expected based on my experience living in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. The Chinese there also seem to have several thousand years of trading and selling in their blood.

Jay@Soob said...


Anonymous said...

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