How do I "talk transactions" at a Renaissance Faire?
June 3, 2016 5:22 AM   Subscribe

Having never been to one before, I'm headed to my first RenFaire at the end of the month to vend (I know!). I have been doing extensive reading and practicing to prepare, and have come across several useful guides on "How to Speak Renaissance" - addressing people, casual conversation, even hawking wares. But none of these seem to cover the delicate subject of sales transaction itself.

I'm looking for help with: 1. Ways to phrase how much a thing costs, or a range of prices of items in different sizes. 2. Stating total price and asking for payment (not "That'll be 299"). 3. How to work in the awkward moment when I have to bring out my phone and run their credit card in an anachronism-minimizing way? Specific phrases or scripts is what I'm looking for here.
posted by turtlegirl to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I worked a refair many years ago. Before cell phones.
We were told to always use pounds instead of dollars. As in "That will be 299 pounds mlord" etc. As to the using your phone, I might say something like "I just need to use Merlin's magic machine for the card, mlord" Or something like that. It kind of depends on the mood of the crowd and your customers as to what you can say.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:30 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been to the local Faire (King Richard's) a few times in the last couple of years, and buying stuff from vendors is treated like buying stuff from any other store. It's all modern, with credit card swiping etc, no pretense of "roleplaying" at all.
posted by jozxyqk at 5:55 AM on June 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

I've been to quite a few Ren Faires and the only pretenses the merchants use are "We accept credit from Lady Visa and Master Card" and using pounds instead of dollars. Many of the attendees are non-dressed, non-RP visitors who know and appreciate that we have modern ways of shopping and payment.

Don't sweat it. Have a great time!
posted by kimberussell at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think you're way overestimating the level of investment in rolepaying that you need to have. Ren faires are like state fairs with gowns, not seamlessly immersive video game-esque settings...
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:13 AM on June 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm going to somewhat disagree with some of the above advice - there are some Rennaisance faires that insist that vendors speak in period-appropriate language. The Texas RenFest is one that does that, and they have a good language guide within their handbook, but it doesn't get very deep into merchant phrases. Still, there may be some useful info there.

I would suggest doing the best you can, and any time things are slow, maybe ask neighboring vendors for advice.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:46 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, money is a universal language. "How Much" and "Where do I swipe" are perfectly acceptable.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:47 AM on June 3, 2016

I do a lot of Faire stuff (guest and occasional performer). If your Faire has rules about how the vendors may speak, obviously follow those but otherwise don't worry. What kimberussel said about Lady Visa and Master Card and what have you is the extent I see most go to (I haven't run into the pounds rather than dollars thing). Frankly, some just have the Square thing stuck somewhere so people know that's what they use.
posted by Stupidratcreature at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you can gauge the level of role-playery desired by the language of your customer. If it's "how much is this?" and "do you take discover?" i think it's safe to think you have exited to a meta-level. If it's "pray good vendor, how much doth yon garment setteth me back?" then you can list prices in terms of gold or silver pieces, and talk about magic boxes and mysteriously flexible slates.

I don't like pounds for dollars because most people in the English Renaissance never saw a pound (one way of evaluating currency values across time claims that a pound in 1500 had the economic power of $690,000 today!). Pieces of silver are much less specific.
posted by ubiquity at 9:21 AM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've worked for numerous merchants at RenFaires, including managing. "We honor letters of credit from the Master of Cards and the Lady Visa" sort of thing is great and customers chuckle at it every time.

You can avoid the obvious anachronism of "dollars" but avoid any confusion with "pounds" by just saying the number. "That will be 17 (or whatever amount) mi'lady/m'lord." If someone gets cheeky and asks "17 what...cents, hahhaha" you can say something like "in the currency of this village, called 'dollars' in the local dialect."

Generally, I would say that the more expensive your items are, the less roleplaying frippery you want to get into when it comes to the actual transaction. Because that's real modern money and no-one is playing around about that fact.

For the scanning of cards, you can just do it without fanfare. Have a standard cute answer with a wink for when someone gets cheeky. "This? It is a curious little machine, but my bookkeeper insisted that it would make me more successful and he is right! I am assured that it is not sorcery. Many of the merchants are using them here to validate letters of credit."
posted by desuetude at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with using "dollars". It wasn't the form of currency used in Renaissance England, but it was definitely a currency that existed and that people were aware of. "Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition. / Nor would we deign him burial of his men / Till he disbursed at Saint Colmeā€™s Inch / Ten thousand dollars to our general use." - Macbeth, I.ii.

Gotta run now but I wonder if Bartholomew Fair might have some useful language to steal...
posted by phoenixy at 10:03 AM on June 3, 2016

desuetude has it.

Also, bring an old-school manual card imprinter for when you inevitably cannot get any signal, internet connection, or have a dead phone battery.
posted by culfinglin at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2016

My takeaway is that options vary as widely as Faires and Faire-goers do, so I will prepare along those lines. This is a new event and the production company is not being super-strict given it's the first year, but I know that we have Serious RenFaire Folk traveling from out-of-state, so I wanted to be able to blend in and play my part as best I can (for a newbie). I'm grateful to all of you!
posted by turtlegirl at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK, I found some transaction scenes from Bartholmew Fair. Some authentic 17th century buying and selling talk for you.

five Shillings a Pig is my Price, at least; if it be a Sow-pig, six Pence more;
Sir, this is a Spell against 'em, spick and span
new; and 'tis made as 'twere in mine own Person, and
I sing it in mine own defence. But 'twill cost a Penny
alone if you buy it.

Cok. Speak no more, but shut up Shop presently,
Friend, I'll buy both it and thee too, to carry down
with me, and her Hamper, beside. Thy Shop shall fur-
nish out the Mask, and hers the Banquet: I cannot go
less, to set out any thing with credit. What's the price,
at a word, o' thy whole Shop, Case, and all as it stands?
Lea. Sir, it stands me in Six and twenty Shilling se-
ven Pence half-penny, besides Three Shillings for my
Cok. Well, Thirty Shillings will do all, then! And
what comes yours too?
Tra. Four Shillings and eleven Pence, Sir, Ground
and all, an't like your Worship.
Cok. Yes, it does like my Worship very well, poor
Woman, that's Five Shillings more, what a Mask shall I
furnish out, for Forty Shillings? (Twenty pound Scotch)
and a Banquet of Ginger-bread? there's a stately thing!
Numps? Sister? and my Wedding Gloves too? (that I
never thought on afore.) All my Wedding Gloves,
Ginger-bread? O me! what a device will there be? to
make 'em eat their Fingers ends! and delicate Brooches
for the Bride-men! and all! and then I'll ha' this Poesie
put to 'em: For the best Grace, meaning Mistris Grace,
my Wedding Poesie.
Gra. I am beholden to you, Sir, and to your Bar-
tholomew Wit.
posted by phoenixy at 8:43 PM on June 3, 2016

Vendors at our local-ish ren faire (Maryland) solve the problem by labeling everything. No need to ask how much it is when there is a label right there on the item. Likewise Lady Visa and Master Card. Small items (like 5$ or less) or items that you just have a ton of (probably 25 or more of the same price item) might be put into baskets/bins/shelves with a label on the bin--in which case the label describes what the item is and the price, "Small Widgets, 2$ each". I'm sure this is tedious on the labeling side, but it certainly makes day-of transactions much easier.

If you're expecting commissions, a flyer with your price ranges (small widgets (single color)--5-10$, small widgets (multi-color)--10-15$).

If you sell online/etc., business cards sitting out (and also in the bags if you normally do that).

For actual transactions, people just do it quickly but normally, with maybe "thank you, my lord/lady" instead of just thank you. The serious ren faire people seem to fall into two categories, either serious shoppers who appreciate knowing everything up front or serious period folks who make all of their own stuff so that they can make sure every thread is period accurate.
posted by anaelith at 7:02 AM on June 5, 2016

Forgot the corollary--if it's not obviously non-period, be ready to answer questions about which of your items are/aren't period accurate and to what extent (materials, crafting methods, etc.).
posted by anaelith at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2016

> I know that we have Serious RenFaire Folk traveling from out-of-state, so I wanted to be able to blend in and play my part as best I can (for a newbie).

Don't worry. The Serious RenFaire standards for dialect/anachronisms are MUCH more relaxed for merchants than for actors and other performers. (By necessity, like I said, this is real money and we're not playin' about that.)
posted by desuetude at 6:36 AM on June 6, 2016

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