Confessions of a Used-car Salesman

'Who buys a car from an Arab?'

“Hi, it’s about the car, is it still available?”

Unfortunately it was. More than four months after placing the ad, the car was still for sale; in fact, the ad was more pertinent than ever before. I had forgotten about placing it altogether, and developed a fondness for the old car out of an understanding that our fates were intertwined. Every once in a while I would get a phone call from “a customer who saw your ad”; a couple of times customers who sounded serious promised to be in touch the next day to schedule a time to see the car, but never called back.

Sayed - Amos Biderman - February 24, 2012

A senior economist I knew once told me a study had been conducted of online sales sites and the results showed that an Arab’s chances of selling a car are much higher if he does not mention his name. So I removed my name initially and there really were more calls from customers who had seen the ad − but what’s the point? I mean, at a certain stage they asked, “What is your name?” and when I told them, attempting to “Ashkenize” it as best I could − there was always a kind of groan, an incontrollable “Ahhhhh,” followed immediately by a promise to call soon to arrange a meeting.

After a month of running this nameless advertisement, I decided to spare myself the embarrassment and restore my first name to the ad. I got one call from an Arab guy, who actually sounded very nice, until we came to the price.
“What do you mean, 35,000?” he asked.

“It’s what it says in the blue book, and that’s even before adjusting it because of other variables.”

“What’s the matter with you? Where did you get 35,000?”

“From the book,” I replied.

“No, you’re wrong,” he said. “If you like, I’ll bring you the same car, same model, one year later even, like new, for 29,000 − so what do you say?”

“No, thank you,” I replied when I found myself in the position of buying, instead of selling.

“Why? It’s a terrific car,” the guy insisted, “with an amazing sound system and reverse sensors.”

“No,” I said, trying to end the conversation.

“If you hear of anyone who’s interested, refer him to me, okay?” he managed to get in before I hung up.

“Yes,” I told the caller on Friday, promising myself that I would delete the ad immediately after our conversation, “it is still available.”

He asked for a few details about the car and I responded with little enthusiasm. Then came the usual question, even though my first name appeared in the ad.

“Yes,” I replied, “Sayed.”

“You forgot to write ‘A’ in the ad, he commented.

“My mistake,” I replied.

“Ahhh,” he blurted, “well, can I come see the car tomorrow, on Shabbat?”

“Sure,” I replied, and I had already entered the website and begun the process of deleting the ad.

“So I’ll be in touch with you tomorrow, Sayed, see you.”


Five minutes go by and again, the automated voicemail was telling me: “You have a call waiting from a customer who saw ...”

“Hello?” I answered suspiciously this time.

“Sayed, it’s Zion again, listen, any chance I could come with my son to see the car now?”

“Are you serious?”

“Absolutely,” Zion answered. “What do you say? We can leave Ashdod in a minute.”

After an hour the father and son, who got out of the army only a week ago, were examining the car from every angle. When they were finished they moved to the side and whispered to each other. When the consultation was over, the father approached and asked, “Do you have coffee in the house?”

“T’faddlu,” was what came out.

I made them lattes from the machine, we settled on a price and the deal was sealed within 10 minutes. After we transferred the ownership, the son drove back to Ashdod in my car, I mean his car.

“What are we going to do now without a car?” my wife asked when I got home. And I, suffused with a fighting spirit, went directly to the computer. I’ve always been practical, I didn’t have time to waste, and if my gut feeling was to be trusted then by noon, even before the banks and post office close, I figured I would have found a new car. The ad was right there before me when I switched on the computer, exactly what I was looking for and in Jerusalem no less: “Brand new car, being sold by a female doctor.”

I did not waste a moment and immediately dialed the telephone number that appeared in the ad. “Hello,” said a masculine voice, as I had expected, because the ad listed the contact person as Boaz.

“Hello, Boaz, it’s about the car, is the ad still relevant?”

“Yes,” Boaz replied, “like you saw, brand new.”

I decided to follow my instincts, cut a deal fast, without dawdling. After all I didn’t have the strength or time to turn the car search into a saga that would go on for days.
“Say, can I see the car now?”

“Yes,” Boaz replied. “I can come with the car to wherever you like.”

“Good,” I said to him, “then can you come to my house?”
We arranged for him to bring the car over in half an hour, and to telephone me from downstairs.

Within 20 minutes I got a call from Boaz and went down with my wife to check out the new car.

“It’s completely new,” my wife said in Arabic, and I noticed a twitch at the corner of Boaz’s mouth. “The mileage is really low, only a few hundred kilometers.”

“Are you Arabs?” Boaz asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” my wife replied, and relief swept over Boaz’s face.

“You’ve taken a heavy load off my mind,” he said suddenly in Arabic, and proceeded to tell us that he had advertised the car at first using his real name, Bassam, and nobody called him, so then he switched to Boaz and felt just awful about it. The car really is new, he went on. He had won it in a Mifal Hapayis lottery and doesn’t need another car, he drives a new one and his wife has a car of her own.

Nevertheless, he said, despite the low price he was asking, nobody called. And then he decided, just that morning, at the advice of a friend from work, to change the name in the ad to Boaz − which was the friend’s name, actually.

“I am so glad that I don’t have to lie,” he confessed. “Who would have believed that an Arab couple would wind up being the first callers? I’ll even give you an additional discount.”

The seats were still wrapped in plastic, and the car registration papers and Mifal Hapayis stickers confirmed Boaz’s, I mean Bassam’s, story. My wife and I stepped aside to consult.

“It’s a real bargain,” she said. “Get him to knock off another thousand shekels and buy the car.”

“What’s the matter with you?” I replied. “Who buys a car from an Arab?”