In the heart of Tangier, Morocco the rug salesman made his “final” offer. I shook my head no and started heading for the door.
Suddenly, final wasn’t so final anymore. The salesman saw his commision walking out, and he chased me down.
Tangier was a brief stop on a tour of Spain back in 2006. Our course had taken us to the south coast for a stop at the Rock of Gibraltar and wouldn’t you know it, get up on a viewpoint, look across the Strait, and there was Africa. We’d never been to Africa, and this opportunity had bucket list written all over it. Conveniently the tour had jumping to that continent as the next leg.
Although it was a brief stop, only about a day and a half, we made the most of it. A bus tour drove us around the region, giving us a look at both the city and the countryside in the hills above. A local guide did his best to convince all the westerners how progressive Tangier was, at least by the standards of the region. Still, as our first exposure to a Muslim culture it was an eye opener: from the separation of the men from the women and children; to the women’s clothing and the food; to the odd little bruise some of the men had on their foreheads, presumably earned from their position of prayer.
One stop on the tour was custom made for tourists – a chance for a brief ride on a camel.
The enthusiasm the camel handler had for giving this infidel westerner a ride was reflected on the length of it – maybe 30 seconds. Just long enough to experience the big swings of the camel getting up from and back down to his knees for mounting/dismounting, the distance from the ground, and the odd gait from his walking a quick circle. Strangely enough he had more enthusiasm for giving my wife a ride, it lasted a couple minutes. I can’t say I blame him, she’s much prettier than I am, and she wasn’t covered by a hijab or niqab as most of the local women wear.
Our guide also walked us through the medina on the way to the kasbah. It was good we had a guide given our limited time, one could easily get lost in all the turns. While we didn’t have time to really experience much local culture, it was interesting to see some of the people en route.
This walk through the medina had an ulterior motive. We magically ended up at the shop of a rug merchant for a “demonstration”. (Can you say kickback?) While I’m not certain it was the same shop rigmover found it looks familiar: climbing up a set of stairs we came to a large open room, paneled with rugs, and bordered by a row of small stools – enough to sit a busload of people. A team of salesmen and their helpers dramatically rolled out a series of rugs on the open floor, eliciting oohs and aahs for the colors and patterns. After they gave their spiel on the background and quality of the rugs, the salesmen approached their most likely looking customers.
My wife and I are not great collectors of souvenirs. But we had discussed buying a Moroccan rug even before leaving home, partially as a souvenir of Africa, but also because we could use one. When it came time for us to check out prospective rugs, an experienced salesman sized us up and thought, “there’s my commision for the day.” And so began the haggle.
I’d like to regale you with all the gruesome details, but frankly it’s been nearly 10 years and my memory isn’t that good. I know we started with the traditional high ball from his side and low ball from mine. We’d go back and forth, and I’d hem and haw, and step aside to confer with the wife, and say no can do. He’d drop a bit, and I’d bump a bit, and eventually as our groups time was running out we headed for the door. That’s when he chased us down.
I finally got the price I wanted, but it cut into his commision (and presumably the kickback for the local guide steering us his way) enough that they were no longer willing to including shipping back to the states, so I had to carry that damn carpet in the suitcase for the rest of the trip. It fit, and it was heavy, but at least I felt like I didn’t get fleeced, haggling with an expert.
But I still managed to get fleeced by an expert before leaving Tangier. One thing about walking through Tangier is, you frequently get hit up by locals trying to sell you something. As we were walking through the medina back to the bus, the usual horde of kids were hitting us up to buy this or that. I’d put them off by pulling out my pockets to show them no money, but one unusually persistent 10 year old was selling T-shirts, and that’s one thing I do like to collect – one from each country I’ve been in. I still did the penniless haggle bit until he hit my price point, then broke out the cash from a hidden pocket.
The thing is, once we got that T-shirt home and washed it, it shrank three sizes and most of the dye came out. It fits my petite wife now, but all I get to wear is fleeced.
With most trips all you often end up with is fading memories. But for that rug, every time I come home and see it laying on the livingroom floor I’m reminded of a haggle with a Moroccan rug merchant, and the artistry it would take to make it.