Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 01/4/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Scott needed the hat, desperately. "Desperately" was our first mistake.
We'd been wandering, lost, in the souks of Marrakesh for more than two hours, every wrong turn leading to another. Despite dutiful sunscreen use, Scott was getting burned. We spotted an acceptable-looking straw fedora, stepped into the shade of a shop and began to haggle.
"How much?" Scott asked the shopkeeper in French.
"Three thousand dirham," the shopkeeper replied -- the equivalent of about $360.
Even though he knew that it was all part of the game, Scott flinched. As we'd rehearsed, I began to point wordlessly at all the hat's flaws -- spots where the brim seemed uneven, or where a straw poked loose -- while he and the shopkeeper went back and forth: 100 dirham, 1,000 dirham, 120, 500. Finally, they shook hands on 160 dirham, about $20.
It was our first time haggling for anything, and we walked out of the souk feeling pretty proud of ourselves. Scott had talked the guy down by 2,840 dirham, after all.
It was a few more minutes before we realized that we were idiots. That $20 hat was definitely worth no more than $10. It didn't appear to be handmade. And yeah, the brim was a bit uneven.
We spent the rest of the day trying to rationalize our poor mental math by talking ourselves into the purchase, as anyone with buyer's remorse would.
Before I tagged along with Scott, my fiance, on a business trip to Paris during which we skipped south for five days of vacation in Morocco, we'd spent time planning our itinerary and dutifully educating ourselves on the customs of the country's markets -- especially the Jemaa El-Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the commercial center of Marrakesh's old city. We knew that we'd have to haggle for everything and that, if we did it well, we had a chance of getting incredible bargains on beautiful decor for our new apartment.
One of Scott's Moroccan-born friends laid it out for us over dinner in Paris, explaining the four prices you can pay in the Marrakesh souks: One price for American tourists, a slightly lower price for French tourists, a third lower price for Parisian Moroccans like our friends, and finally the lowest price, for locals.
We knew that the latter two weren't possible for us. But because Scott is fluent in French and knows a little Arabic, we thought that we could try for the second price -- as long as I kept my mouth shut, since I don't speak either language.
After our failure with the hat -- and a few unpleasant encounters with overly aggressive vendors in the souks -- we needed to regroup. The manager of our riad told us about a fixed-price market near the Saadian Tombs that offered a stress-free shopping experience for wimps like us.
A sweaty stroll took us past La Koutoubia and the ancient city gates to the market, which was stacked high with all the same goods you find in the souks -- perfumes, carpets, tea services, lanterns and little souvenirs. At a shop with all the ambiance of a Kmart, the staff were the exact opposite of what you'd find in the souks, making themselves scarce behind the fluorescent-lit stacks of rugs or piles of scarves. Smaller, touristy items were on the first floor, while nicer goods were upstairs.
And though it was certainly not the shopping experience one comes to Morocco for, it was great for intel-gathering. We picked out a $75 rug that came with a tag explaining its handmade-in-Morocco provenance, something we couldn't be sure we were getting in the souks. We bought a few sets of qarkabeb, or Moroccan castanets, for our nieces and nephews, since they cost only about $2 each and it didn't seem worth the effort to haggle over something so small at the souks.
And then we laid the foundation for all our future transactions by walking around the store, noting the prices for everything else there that we might want, to use as a base-line for later negotiations. Hand-painted pottery and decorative tagines, for example, were incredibly cheap -- about $6 for a vase or $4 for a small serving platter.
Armed with this new information, we set off for Essaouira, a beach town three hours away by bus. It might have been the cool sea breezes or the laid-back vibe of the windsurfer-filled city, but shopping was easier in Essaouira. So, when we encountered a vendor with a spread of teapots and platters, we put up our haggling dukes. Figuring that Scott's language skills weren't helping us get low prices, we employed a new strategy: accept a higher price only if the vendor would throw in a second item.
And that's how we walked away with an ornate teapot and a sugar pot thrown in to sweeten the deal -- though we later realized that in our enthusiasm, we'd overlooked its bent leg. But it was all for the equivalent of about $25 and, bolstered by our victory, we moved on to pottery.
A large black-and-white bowl, hand-painted in Fez with the lettering of an Arabic poem about honeybees and the sweetness of life, was our next buy, and for $20 we got the seller to throw in a decorative jar with the same pattern, as well as a hand-painted tile.
Still, after five days of shopping in Morocco, we realized that there's no such thing as a fair price. Maybe it's just our psychological susceptibility to what's called choice-supportive bias, where you attribute positive qualities to a purchase to justify the money you spent, as I did with Scott's hat. Or maybe it's just pride.
But when we look at our souvenirs and they bring us right back to our memories -- of the scrubdown we got in the hammam, of galloping down the beach on a camel, of fragrant tagine dinners on rooftops as we listened to the call to prayer -- we know that the price was right.
-- The Washington Post
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 E2
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
The Cuban way: Life after 'El Bloqueo'
American, United delay, change Boeing 787 orders
Feds create wildlife refuge in the North Carolina mountains
Philadelphia airport, township sign deal on expansion work
Rent spike forces cartoon museum from San Francisco space
Kaibab Paiute reservation named dark sky community
Amtrak says Illinois pets-on-trains pilot project a success
Mobile app could speed O'Hare passport lines
Museum hosts exhibit on history of Henry Ford Health System
Philadelphia latest city to launch bicycle sharing program
Big lineup announced for Nashville's new amphitheatre
'Mockingbird' production moving from Ala. author's hometown
Cruise ship worker admits sexually abusing passenger
Families stream to battlefields for 100th year of Gallipoli
Tourism season off to a strong start on SC's Grand Strand
Pan Am Games facilities added to Toronto tour
Rent spike pushes cartoon museum from San Francisco space
Exhibit showcases super-scooper water bombers
Union-Pearson Express starts June 6
Uber to return - legally - to Portland, Oregon
Puerto Rico mayor bans horse-drawn carriages in San Juan
King, Collins want National Park passes to be sold online
New Orleans going smoke-free in bars, other public places
Non-stop Norwegian flights added to Las Vegas airport
Woman strip-searched at Detroit airport settles lawsuit
Woman strip-searched at Detroit airport settles lawsuit
Arizonans want closer spot to watch federal checkpoints
Amazon starts travel service Amazon Destinations
Germany's Black Forest: Dark woods and mushrooms
Neighbourhoods: Street art and shopping in Miami's Wynwood
Vegas welcome sign's designer never liked use of 'fabulous'
Park Loop Road at Acadia National Park opens to vehicles
Visitor fee for Apostle Islands ice caves generates $140K
Man pleads guilty to pot farm in Sequoia National Park
New music festival launched outside Nashville
Red Roof plans hotel expansion in Canada
TSA adding new security measures for airline, airport staff
Sunwing to launch Windsor-Cancun flights
Montreal puts cycling first during May festival
German train drivers' union calls for 2-day strike