Wednesday, 11 May 2011

How things are in the Lews (part 2)

Even in Stornoway, however, there are one or two features that attract the attention of the stranger. The larger shops, though called drapers, druggists, and so on, as in the South, are more like American stores on a small scale. You will find a draper selling cutlery, and filling one of his windows with gingerbread. The grocer sells shoes, the druggist prints bills to order, and will supply you not only with drugs but with screw nails, ropes, and agricultural implements. The style of doing business to, is peculiar. A man from the country comes in to buy (let us say) a bonnet. He goes first to the draper's, and after lounging about in the shop, looking about him, and perhaps offering an occasional remark on the weather and other general subjects, as if he had no intention of making a purchase, for the people here consider the space outside of the counter to be public property, he at last approaches the business that brought him. He tries on a variety of bonnets, asks the prices, and takes particular note of the bonnets that suit him. He then leaves the shop and proceeds to another draper's, where he goes through the same process; and having gone round the town in this way, returns to the place where he thinks he will make the best bargain, and after a great deal of haggling to bring down the price, perhaps makes the purchase; but if not satisfied he will go away, to return some other day, and see if he cannot get the article for a penny or half-penny less. This style of doing business is not confined to the Lews. A gentleman connected with the Perth and Inverness Railway told me that when that line was first opened some of the natives accustomed to the foregoing style of doing business would often make their appearance at the little stations in the North, when some such dialogue as the following would ensue:
Native: "What is the price to ---?"
Ticket Clerk: "Two and eightpence".
"Two and eightpence"
"Two and eightpence! Heeh, never! I'll give you two shillin's"
"There is no reduction. The fare is two and eight"
"Make it two and tuppence, and it's a bargain"
"I tell you the fare is two and eightpence"
"It is only thirty miles"
"It doesn't matter what it is. That's the fare"
"I'll give you two and threepence"
"It won't do"
"Two and fourpence, then"
"No, nor two and fourpence"
At two and sixpence the man, perhaps would make a dead stand, and finding the clerk inexorable would actually go away and wait till the next train, to return then with his offer of the two and sixpence, in hope of finding the clerk more accommodating.
But to return to Stornoway. Another curious practice is this. When a man comes in from the country or from one of the adjacent villages to bank any money, he will often approach the bank by some circuitous route, that people may not see where he is going. On approaching the bank, he looks up and down the street before entering, to see that the factor is not in sight, or any one else from whom he wishes to conceal the fact of his having money. It sometimes happens, however, that several persons, all equally anxious to make their deposits secretly, find themselves in the bank together. In this case, they hang back from the counter, each one waiting to let the others go forward and be away before his own turn comes. On one occasion I happened to be in the bank when a countryman came in. He hung back for a considerable time, evidently waiting till I should be gone; but as he saw that I had no intention of leaving, and being perhaps pressed for time, thought pressure for time seems to be a very rare thing here, he turned his back to the teller and myself, and drawing a purse or something out of his pocket counted his money carefully in the corner before bringing it to the counter. The reason of this caution I understand is chiefly this, that the people are afraid lest the fact of their having money in the bank should reach the factor's ears, and he should raise their rent or come upon them for arrears.

The Glasgow Herald, 5 July 1867, page 4

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