For the last few days we have been meaning to buy fruit crates (large plastic boxes) so that we can put our artifacts into storage for the season. We have been buying fruit crates each year since 2004, and probably have purchased nearly 50 crates over the last few years. These crates are everywhere, mainly in minimarkets and fruit markets. It had always been easy to buy them, even though store owners have always looked at us like we were strange for wanting to buy these crates. The crates, which used to be 3 Cypriot pounds each are now 5 Euros and evidently there is some great shortage of these, despite the fact that the are everywhere and I mean everywhere. When we walk to the museum we pass 2 trucks with dozens of empty ones in the back and houses have them on the porch. So, a few days ago, when I was at the large fruit market we shop at, I asked if I could buy some fruit crates (we have bought crates there for the last few years and I expected no problems). I first had a lengthy conversation with three cashiers, who were clearly baffled by what I wanted to buy, and since I did not know the name for fruit crate in Greek I was reduced to pantomiming carrying a fruit crate and saying plastic in Greek. Finally, a cashier wandered up who understood what I wanted and took me back to the manager to ask buying them. She stopped about 40 feet away from him and proceeded to yell at him about the crates. He looked at me and sort of sneered and then said no about four times and turned away. The cashier turned to me and asked me what I needed them for and I said storage. Then she asked me if I was storing fish – why she asked that, I have no clue. She then said that if I could wait a day and then if I called this number (she wrote down a phone number) after 9, there might be crates down at the port. This seemed to me like I had managed to hook into the underground black market fruit crate scene. Unfortunately, the next two days were so busy that I did not get a chance to call the lady.
Yesterday, the lack of fruit crates reached a critical juncture since we have started to store our artifacts for the season. At lunch I went out and stopped at 4 different places and all 4 proprietors told me “no” in various ways. One even just laughed several times and only said no when he noticed that I was still standing there. I finally found an older fruit market where the elderly man who was running it spoke less English than I speak Greek. I was desperate by this time so I, even though the crates have printed on their side that they cost 5 Euros, I offered him 6 Euros each for 6 crates. After a strange haggling session, I somehow wound up with 4 crates for 4 Euros each. I was so tired that I went back to the museum hoping that the 4 would be enough…and of course they weren’t. After getting back to the hotel in the afternoon after the museum closed, I wandered through Larnaka looking for fruit crates. After several more “no” responses, I found a store with several empty ones sitting outside. I went inside and tried to employ my former haggling technique of offering more than they are worth as my opening offer. The young man in the store said that he could not sell them to me, so I said “Even if I paid 8 Euros each?” He then said he could not sell them to me because he did not have enough in his register. I thought he meant that he did not have change, so I said I had the right amount of money. He said no, he could not give me a receipt for the crates. I replied that I did not need a receipt. He then said that no, I had to have a receipt otherwise people would think that I had stolen the crates if I did not have a receipt for them. He then pointed out that the store’s name was on them. I noticed, though, that the store’s name was on only about 20% of the crates. I just looked at the guy and sort of shrugged, so he said to wait here and he then left the store for five minutes. A few minutes later, he came back with 4 crates I needed and showed me that they cost 5 Euros, which is what he charged me for each AND then gave me a receipt. Strange day.