TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH
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.”
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.
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.
Don’t give yourself a hard time if you spend more than you intended in an exotic market.