Learning to haggle in Morocco
Haggling is a strange process. Can you work out what you are really prepared to pay for something? Can you avoid starting at a price that makes the merchant's eyes gleam with that spark of delight? It's expected, of course.
"The price is 600 dirhams. What will you give me?" is a standard opening line when your eyes linger a moment too long on a particular piece.
"No, no, it's lovely, but I'm not interested."
"Well...500. 500 is my best price."
And, if you don't want to buy, now is the time to leave, smiling, and thanking the man (because it is always a man). If you stay, well, even if you start looking at other things in the shop, there's a little marker on the original item. It is not a speedy process.
Some people don't bother to haggle. They hear the price, and they pay. And you see this strange flicker across the merchant's face: a mixture of delight, at the huge profit, and a little moue of disgust and disappointment at someone who does not understand the rules, and the pleasure of reaching the deal.
The key is that no one will ever sell at a loss. And that the seller always has the best knowledge of what his stock is worth. If you know the most you are prepared to pay, you won't feel ripped off. You might have been fleeced, but, the belief in bargains is a powerful sensation.
And so we walked past the open arched doors, under the ramparts, and were greeted, with the usual streams of "Bonjour! Ca va?" and "Regardez!" until we paused in front of a different looking shop, shop full of silver and mirror. And the moment's pause unfurled a tall man from his sunny spot, who ushered us inside with a wide smile and a slightly bowed head. We turned, slowly, inside the space, and looked at the intricate frames, the heavy amber bead necklaces, and the large chests inlaid with ivory calligraphy. And when I stepped into the back, he sat in the corner, and unfolded a large blue cloth on the floor, pulled a key from a pocket deep in his djellaba and unlocked one of the chests.
Laying pieces of silver jewellery out on the cloth, he watched me carefully.
I picked something up. He put something else out. I put the first piece down. He put a bracelet down. My eyes strayed to the wall. He put a necklace down. I picked it up, feeling the cold weight on my palm. He laid out a pair of earrings. I ran my fingers over the filigree work of the pendant. He polished a pair of old coins, and put them in front of me. I put the necklace down, carefully, squaring it up precisely. And though I picked up other pieces, admiring them, tucking my feet under, listening to his explanations, it was only a matter of time, before the conversation started.
"Tell me about this necklace."
He began threading a stranded camel leather thong through it, with some difficulty, as he told me about the design, from the south, a southern cross. Very lucky. He named a price. I shook my head, and picked up something else.
"What will you pay for this?"
I named a price, apologising, ritually, for the insultingly low offer, but, he had to understand, that I could not spend much money. He shook his head, and looked at the necklace, before placing it in front of me. And named a lower price.
And this went back and forth a while, with long pauses, while we talked of other things. And he unpacked more treasures, some tatty and cheap, from his treasure chest. And our numbers came a touch closer, and though there was more head shaking, there were more suggestions of smiles.
And then there's that moment that you reach, when you know that the next price mentioned will be agreed upon, and it will be the middle point between the last sticking points. You have got to 250 and 350, so there will be a handshake on 300. You know, that by saying 250, you are one step away. And then you are handed your prize, wrapped in thick white paper, and you nod, and thank each other for a game well played, and both walk away with the sense that you have pulled the wool over each other's eyes.