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Greek tragedy

One soccer referee learns about bargaining in Athens the hard way

Posted: Sunday August 29, 2004 7:24AM; Updated: Sunday August 29, 2004 10:07AM
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2004 Olympic Games
Thanks for the memories
• Rick Reilly: Greece overcame paranoia
• Steve Rushin: The international language
• S.L. Price: Gods and monsters in Greece
• Richard Deitsch: Moved to tears by perfection
• E.M. Swift: Soccer ref learns the hard way
• Jack McCallum: Women's wrestling emotions
• Michael Farber: Seventeen days of Hellas
• Tim Layden: The best moments aren't televised
• Kelli Anderson: My sense of Athens
• Don Yaeger: Hamm touched by special honor
• Brian Cazeneuve: Gardner's golden moment
• Bill Frakes: Indelible images of the Games

We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the XXVIII Olympiad to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.

So much of Athens revolves around outdoor dining. Cafes and restaurants are everywhere along the sidewalks and promenades, tables sometimes spilling out into the walkways, shaded by umbrellas, leafy vines and trees. The service is unhurried -- that is to say, slow. It is a pace well suited to the hot midday sun.

One eats, sips, talks, reads and watches the people stroll past. Athenians walk slowly. They amble, and they watch you. Sometimes they prey on you. Children try to sell you Kleenex as you await your waiter. They want to pose for a photograph kissing you on the cheek in exchange for a pin or a euro. Old women bearing bolts of cloth offer to sell you hand-stitched shawls and linens.

One afternoon I was having an outdoor lunch next to a table of four Olympic soccer referees who were working the women's tournament. Three were from Australia; one was from Canada. They were discussing finances and it was apparent they were living on a very strict budget. An old woman in the street called out over my table, to theirs: "You like? Very beautiful." She held out an embroidered tablecloth for their inspection.

One of the Aussies liked. "Oh that's lovely. How much is it?"

"Very good price. Sixty euros."

The soccer referees discussed this among themselves. "I only have 40 Euros," the one who liked it told her friends.

"It's too much, Sheila," said another.

"Oh, but look at it. My mother would love it."

I intruded on their conversation from behind my newspaper. "I'm sure she'll bargain with you," I suggested.

"Offer her thirty," Sheila's friend said.

"For you, special price," the woman said.

"Will you take thirty Euros?" Sheila asked.

The woman frowned. "All right," she said, too quickly. She passed over the tablecloth and the sale was made.

Sheila was pleased. It was expensive, but worth it. In a moment the woman reappeared with another, identical tablecloth. "Very beautiful. Special price, just like I make the lady. For you, thirty Euros."

The three remaining referees exchanged glances. "I don't want it," one said.

"I'll give you twenty-five Euros," said the Canadian referee.

The woman in the street looked pained. "Made by hand. Thirty Euros."

"Twenty-five." This went on for a couple more rounds.

"All right," said the Greek woman, passing the tablecloth over.

The first referee gave a squeal of anguish. "Not fair! I paid thirty."

The Canadian referee giggled in delight. "She wants a refund," she said to the woman, who gave the first referee a sympathetic smile as the second sale was made.

In a moment she had returned with a third identical tablecloth. Very beautiful. Hand embroidered. "For you, twenty-five Euros," she said to the two remaining referees. She put her finger to her lips as if to keep a secret.

"Not interested," said one.

"Make it twenty," said the other.

"Now wait a minute!" protested the first referee.

The Greek woman was holding firm. "You like?" she asked me. "Twenty-five Euros."

"No thank you," I said.

"Very good price. Twenty-five Euros," she said to the third referee.

"Nope. Good-bye. Twenty. No more," said the third referee. She meant it. The old lady wandered away. In a few minutes she returned, her index finger again to her lips in the universal sign of silence. As the first two referees groaned, the third bought the tablecloth for the woman's very best price, twenty Euros.

"Oh for God's sake," said Sheila, rolling her eyes. "Well it's for my mother," she added. "I know she'll love it." Then she asked the third referee if she could borrow five Euros so she could pay for her lunch.

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