Frequent readers of my blog may remember my visit to Turkey, during which I conceded that I was incapable of bargaining and therefore didn’t buy a rug. In retrospect, this remains a wise decision.
Today, I was incapable of not bargaining.
After breakfast on the roof of our riad, I headed back into the central medina, intent on visiting the Ali ben Youssuf Medersa, which is apparently very beautiful. In preparation for this, I noted that medersa is very close to the leather tanneries, which are reportedly quite remarkable, so I decided it would be wise to stop there as well. In fact, they would be my first stop of the day.
And so I traced my footsteps toward the Djema, but this time continuing further north, past the shopkeepers attempting to hawk their wares at me. But I wasn’t listening, because there was nothing I wanted.
I continued past the rugs hung on display.
I traveled down many a blind alley, while strangers offered to help. I ignored their words, as I was certain there would be extortion involved (one of the rules here is not to follow strangers).
It was late in the morning when I finally stepped out onto Rue Bab Debbagh, where they are located.
When you are a white man in Morocco walking down this street, there is only one thing you can want, and this gave me caution. I envisioned myself an easy target for a con artist, and so passed tannery after tannery.
I continued walking, far past this lonely water fountain, looking vaguely like the Tardis in the center of the street.
I kept on until I reached the wall of the Medina, here. I paused for a moment to take this photograph, when a salesman invited me inside so that I could see the tanneries from above. The guidebooks mentioned that they do this, so it seemed marginally less dubious than it sounds. And safer, somehow, than some of the other opportunities that had crossed my path.
From above, this is the tannery sitting aside the wall of the Medina. The photos I had seen featured vats of vivid colors, but this was not the case today. Meh.
I returned down the stairs, and he offered to show his wares. I thought, “fine, I’ll be polite.” Plus they had dromedary leather – I was curious. Being polite was my first mistake.
My second mistake exhibiting more than passing interest. And it all went downhill from there. I said “no.” And he said “we are retuning to the mountains tomorrow so we must sell today. We are offering very good deals.”
And I thought, “He’s handing you a line. Find out what he is charging, so you can say it’s too expensive.” Of course it was way too expensive. So I low-balled him hard, thinking he would laugh in my face and accept the “no.” This wasn’t to be the case. I proffered that my (fictional) fiancé wouldn’t be happy with me spending that kind of money, as it seemed to be an excuse that might work, but nothing. Everything I tried, I just couldn’t get away.
The first salesman handed me off to a second to finish the job. Finally, my will broken, we agreed on a price. It was, just for the record, nowhere near the original price. It was much, much closer to my fictional low-ball price. In the end, I paid less than a quarter of the initial ask, which may be OK, as the guidebooks say to start at a third.
Feeling like a bit of a failure by my ability to stand firm at “no” I returned to the streets in search of the Medersa. And I got lost again, of course.
I passed this archway and the four beggarwomen at least three more times before I finally found the Medersa. And it was closed, because it’s Friday, and that’s a special day of prayer for Muslims.
And so I sat down eating a pound of roast lamb for lunch (it was the smallest amount they would let me buy – and it was not negotiable!) reflecting on the morning’s experience. I failed to say “no” but in retrospect I’ve been in this situation before – bargaining to leave, and in the end making a purchase. And probably at a reasonable price.
Maybe I can, in fact, haggle. But I only do it well when I’m not trying.