Tuesday, November 4, 2014

MARRAKECH: IT HAVE NO FRIENDS IN DE SOUKS!: LESSONS IN CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT



“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.

-Ralph Crawshaw





As I enter the narrow maze of shopping magic and temptation known as the souks of the Medina I   am not so gently beckoned into the stores to take a look or to “let money change hands”. 

I start to show interest in an item and ask for the price. Quickly I am told a very high price while the owner maintains a straight business like face. I do the math and realise that I am not willing to spend that much. As this thought process registers on my face the store owner drops the price a bit. The game has begun.

“This is way too much! Can you make me a better offer?” 
“How much would you like to spend…for example?” 

I see you Mr. Store owner, you are trying to pick my mouth! I quickly need to decide how much I am willing to spend, and then tell the vendor a lower price, so as to buy myself some leeway to negotiate. 

“ No, no , no …If i sell it to you at that price I will make no profit! How about we meet each other half way?” 

Although he has just promised me a mid way price between his asking price and my offer I am still not satisfied. I inspect the item a bit more closely, firstly to determine whether I really want it and secondly to buy myself some time to think. I make an offer below the mid range. 

“ I like your smile, I want to keep you happy, I want to make you a deal, but that is too low”

Hmm, the mamaguy start! I smile, not just because of the compliment but because this is just the sort of talk I would get at home in Grenada. That reminder of the commonality gives me a warm feeling. 

“It have no friends in de souks!”
 I can hear my Trini travel companion saying in my mind as she had vocalised so many times that week in Morocco.

“Make me your best offer. Give me a serious price” 

There I did it! I called him out and now I wait. He makes an offer and I offer him about 50 dirham less. He puts 20 dirham onto my last offer and starts to pack the item for me. I object, explain that I don’t  have any more money. That  I still have to buy lunch and dinner! I thank him for his time and begin to walk away. He follows me and makes a final offer, this time closer to my last offer. I look at the item again then agree to purchase it. By this time I am paying a quarter of the  first price. 

At first this system seems wildly arbitrary and unreliable! Does anything have a fixed value?  Have I just been tricked? Am I paying too much? Am I paying too little? (THE GUILT of exploiting Mama Africa! )  Could I have gotten it cheaper just a few stalls further? All these thoughts rushed into my head as i walked away with my new purchase. 

This system of haggling is not unique to the souks, it also applies to buying just about anything. By the time you part with your money you have to add an “energy expended in acquisition” worth for what you purchased. However, you have also gained a story. This system gives you the opportunity to interact with the characters in your environment. 


"So where are you from?"
"The Caribbean, Grenada"
He looks confused

"Columbia?"
Somehow Caribbean sounds like Columbia to a lot of people from Marrakech

"No, the Caribbean, you know Bob Marley?" 

"Ahhhh Bub Malayyyy, Jamaica?" 

"No but close enough. Have you heard of Kirani James who won the 400 meter race in the last Olympics" 

"No" 

I get a blank stare. The proud Grenadian in me is disappointed that they don't know our King Kirani.

A week later while I was in Barcelona I met two men from Rabat at my hostel ( Shout out Gracia City Hostel Posse… LOVE YOU GUYS). While on our way to Marbella Beach to a full moon party I asked about this strange system of exchange. This idea of wide gaps in value for the same item seemed like madness and at times even deceptive to me. One of them answered simply that the system of fixed prices is arbitrary. 

“Who is to say what the price should be?"   
He answered in a french accent

He was so right! If you and I can agree on a price we are both comfortable with then that should be the value. It takes into consideration all the circumstances. It is determined on a case by case basis. It leaves space for the consumer to negotiate a price she or he is comfortable with. 

How many times have you stood powerless (I know dramatic) wanting something and not being able to afford it? 

Or having to afford it knowing you really cannot?

There is usually no space to consider your pocket in the “normal” stores in the western world. It even prompted me to consider whether the set prices even have a reasonable co- relation to the worth of things? Or whether it was just like the “first price” I received in the souk? 

Can I tell you how many times I felt like throwing up my hands and giving the face of bewilderment for prices in Grenada recently? Do I have the forum to call out the store owner and say…Come on! Make me a serious price!? 





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