Today when we started Day 2 of Buying Things We Don’t Need, Jon got sucked in by the snake guys in Marrakesh’s main square, Djemma el Fna (see creepy photo above). Here’s how the Snake Guys work: they spot you, the big dumb tourist, wandering around the Djemma el Fna with a guidebook. Actually, scratch that. You don’t even have to carry a guidebook. They just spot you.
Snake Guy 1, smiling big, comes over (sans snake) and says hello, extending his hand. You reach out to shake his hand, exchange a few pleasantries, and voila, Snake Guy Sidekick (avec snake) is suddenly right next to you, wrapping a snake around your neck. In Jon’s case, there are now two snakes – one that Jon holds by the head so it doesn’t whip around and bite him, and another that the Snake Guy holds. Moral of the story – don’t shake hands with strangers in the Djemma el Fna.
Alternatively, if you, being the friendly person you are, do shake someone’s hand, be on the lookout for a Snake Guy Sidekick lurking nearby.
Snake Guys come in many varieties. Some of them are scattered around the square putting on little snake shows. We’re talking huge-ass anaconda-looking snakes slithering around (*shiver*) while cobras “dance” to some gratingly high-pitched flute music. Question: are these snakes drugged? I mean, you’d think the snakes would be making a break for it as fast as they can (at least to gobble up some unsuspecting child – or maybe one of the many sad-looking monkeys controlled by the close relative of the Snake Guy – aka the Monkey Guy).
There are miles of souks in Marrakesh. The souks are seemingly endless alleys (warrens) that twist and turn and seem to tunnel in every direction off the north side of the Djemma el Fna. Jon and I have seen a few “maps” of the souks that tell you generally where all the pottery vendors congregate, where to find the tapis (rug) sellers, shoe sellers, wood carving sellers, leather sellers, etc., but really, unless you want a million people offering to give you somewhat biased directions, just put the map away and wander around. If you really get lost, you just ask for the Djemma el Fna, and you’re all set.
We started with the leather souks today because you can’t escape the leather industry when you’re in Marrakesh. You round a corner and encounter dozens of animal skins, drying in the sun, and every other souk seems to offer leather goods – shoes, belts, bags, picture frames, ottomans . . . even leather bellows. When was the last time you saw a bellow, really?
Most of the vendors work out of narrow, stuffed-to-the-rafters spaces (see photo below), but every now and then, you duck through a tiny entrance and find yourself standing in a cavernous shop with (generally) higher-quality inventory. The souks are surprising this way. The bargaining can get exhausting, but when I step back and think about it, these guys (no women shopkeepers spotted yet) have a grueling job. There are hundreds of stalls selling hundreds of pieces of identical inventory. I can see why the shopkeepers work hard to squeeze every last dirham out of their customers (the foreign ones, anyway).
Although Jon and I checked out this morning the “fixed price” government-run craft shop on rue Mohammed V to figure out the “high end” of negotiating for goods, we didn’t have a good run today. For example, I negotiated for a pretty run-of-the-mill, casual leather belt for 120 dh ($15 US), which seemed like a bargain until I noticed “opening prices” by other leather sellers started at 150 dh. Oops.
We encountered a particularly tough father-son duo at a leather bag shop. Even though I suspect we got a raw deal, I can’t help but be impressed by their tag-team approach, especially because the son looked like he was maybe 12 years old.
Son: “My father, he scrapes by after he pays the craftsman and the dealer. Best quality leather! You want shoes with that?”Father: “My son, he speaks French so well, no? This money – it sends him to school.”
Jon and I clearly need to come up with our own expert patter to have a fighting chance in the souks. Our “we’re just poor students” line doesn’t seem to go over too well. Suggestions, anyone?
Our limit for haggling today happened at one of those cavernous souk shops I described. The seller had a few gorgeous, unique-looking pottery pieces that had an asking price of 1100 dh (~$155) according to various price tags (price tags are when you know you’re not in a typical souk shop).We were interested in picking up three bowls as gifts, and before even getting down to negotiating for the bowls (rule of thumb in Marrakesh according to Lonely Planet is to start at 1/3 the asking price and move up from there), the seller starts freaking out on us when we ask what kinds of shipping options he offers. He’s pointing fingers at me, gesturing wildly and *telling me* that I should just carry these three heavy-ass bowls on the plane, and I’m explaining to him it’s not possible given (1) how strict EasyJet limits are; and (2) how strict EU limits are, generally, after the 10 August flight scare in the UK. We went back and forth about this until Jon signalled that I was having a meltdown and it was time to go home.
As most of you know, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s someone telling me I’m wrong! : ) [Seriously, I’m so right. I mean, I *just flew on a plane* the other day. Tell me when this guy last got on a plane to the UK! Besides, I’m the customer!] As you can see, the haggling ceased to be about the goods. It was indeed time to call it a day, so we walked away and came back to our cozy little riad and sat by the fire. All better now. Time for a home-cooked dinner chez Riad.