TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - HOW I TRAVEL - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

It had been a hellish night. Af­ter a week of eat­ing sim­ple tagines at street stalls in Morocco surf hide­out Tag­ha­zout, I spied a bou­tique ho­tel, its de­signer lobby lur­ing me in with its African-jun­gle­meets-Ber­ber-camp vibes. Af­ter a quick chat with the charm­ing re­cep­tion­ist, a rooftop din­ner was booked – a din­ner that would later leave me wrapped around a toi­let bowl for 12 hours. The kicker? It cost 10 times the price we had paid for any other meal in town.

In Es­saouira, the next day, I was wan­der­ing in a post-food-poi­son­ing stu­por in small laneways laden with mounds of vivid spices, lanterns and leather slip­pers. Shop­ping was the last thing on my mind, yet some­how I found my­self co­erced into hav­ing mint tea with a tooth­less shop­keeper – who was funny and charm­ing – and ended up hand­ing over all our cash for a gi­gan­tic bag of tea.

His sales tac­tic was flaw­less – jokes, smiles, com­pli­ments show­ered over us like confetti – and af­ter shar­ing his tea, how could we say no to a “small bag”. “Very small,” I sug­gested.

In­stead he started stuff­ing a ves­sel that could have kept us go­ing for three years. I had vi­sions of us be­ing pulled up by cus­toms with this bag of ros­es­tud­ded “tea” in my hus­band’s surf­board bag.

The price listed was per gram. Be­fore we knew it, the mas­ter had whipped out his cal­cu­la­tor and was pre­sent­ing a be­fud­dling num­ber … “Wait, we don’t have that much money!” I squeaked. We didn’t even want the tea but now we were in too deep. There was no es­cape.

My hus­band in­no­cently showed the €25 (about $40) we had on us (far less than the ask­ing rate) and he pounced like a lion. I was too weak – and kind of im­pressed at his skills – to ar­gue but I can imag­ine many might lose their cool when faced with a sit­u­a­tion like this. Not will­ing to be burned again, my hus­band thrust his hands in his pock­ets and re­fused to re­move them for the rest of the day.

IT’S IN THE BODY LAN­GUAGE

Hag­gling can be one of travel’s great­est thrills, if you play nicely and keep your wits about you. In­sight Va­ca­tions travel di­rec­tor Si­mon Clyn­ick says his golden rule of thumb for hag­gling is to keep smil­ing.

“Never take it too se­ri­ously and never be­gin hag­gling if you have ab­so­lutely no in­ten­tion of buy­ing the goods on of­fer,” he says. “I al­ways tell guests to put their own value on goods be­fore hag­gling so they know how much they are pre­pared to pay.”

SMOOTH OP­ER­A­TOR

Un­less you pos­sess Hid­den Fig­ures­like speed with num­bers, keep­ing up with cur­rency con­ver­sion rates with the added pressure of a savvy sales­per­son stand­ing over you can be in­tense. The thing I’ve learned is, a lit­tle bit of harm­less “scam­ming” is all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence so don’t give your­self a hard time if you spend a lit­tle more than you in­tended.

“If you find you’ve been ripped off, it’s good to look on the bright side and know the ven­dor is prob­a­bly not very wealthy and you have contributed to help­ing him sup­port and pro­vide for his fam­ily,” Si­mon adds.

POWER BAL­ANCE

There is a power strug­gle at play in each and ev­ery mar­ket­place. If you re­ally don’t want to buy some­thing, it’s best not to ac­cept of­fers of tea from smil­ing strangers.

“I think the best way to say no with style, is to say it po­litely but firmly and al­ways look them in the eyes,” Si­mon says. “If that still doesn’t work just walk away calmly, and in style.”

When I think about our Moroc­can tea-seller now, in hind­sight, it was $40 well spent for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

PIC­TURE: SHUTTERSTOCK

Don’t give your­self a hard time if you spend more than you in­tended in an ex­otic mar­ket.

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