Tom Sturrock is the News & Sports editor for TNT Magazine, and writes for us today about his shopping experiences in Morocco.
The markets of Marrakech are not for the faint-hearted and, as much as anywhere on earth, they verify the saying that a fool and his money are easily parted.
Vibrant chaos reigns in the maze of small shops, or souks, that wend back from Djemaa el Fna, the public square at the city’s heart. Donkeys idle on the kerbs, like drivers waiting for a fare. Dusty avenues are overrun with cats, snoozing in matted, furry piles on every step. An old man passes by, bent double, dragging a cart piled 2m high with broken cardboard boxes.
Men sitting on milk crates outside shops, bulging with bright rugs, flag me down. “You look – you look”, they say, pointing from their eyes to their stores. I’m an obvious tourist. Knowing I’ll be heading out into the Sahara in a couple of days, I’m on the hunt for a pair of comfortable desert shoes.
On the advice of some locals, I find my way into a cavernous souk three times the size of those surrounding it. The concrete floor is cool, and the air smells of mint tea – otherwise known as Berber whiskey. Mohammed, the owner, approaches. “You are Australian,” Mohammed says – it’s not a question – when I tell him what I’m looking for. “Like Mark Viduka.” To the shoes. Mohammed gestures to the wooden shelves that run the length of the store, lined with soft slippers of different colours.
“These are the Berber Adidas,” Mohammed says, “perfect for travelling, very comfortable.” I like the look of the snazzy blue ones. “No, not blue,” Mohammed declares, with a mixture of concern and contempt. “Blue is for ladies. You want these,” he says, pointing to his own mustard-coloured slippers. “This is the best colour.” Mohammed’s conviction sways me. I’m sold. I haggle insipidly for a few minutes, but end up buying a leather backpack too. We part, and I head off with my purchases wrapped in blue bags.
It is only later that I learn blue bags are reserved for customers who’ve shown themselves to be poor negotiators, identifying them to other shopkeepers as easy marks.
- Tom Sturrock
It’s OK Tom, haggling doesn’t come naturally to most Westerners. Have you readers had an interesting experience haggling for goods abroad?