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Hypermarts and Haggling

Comparing commerce in the Ville Nouvelle and Medina

sunny 30 °C

At the end of a long week, I have finally found some time to do some non-required writing! As promised, here is what happened to me yesterday:

I went down (altitude-wise, since it's actually north of here) to Fes with five other folks: a VMI keydet (Eddie), another American exchange student (Kelsi), a French exchange student (Camille), and two Moroccan students. We left here around 10ish, and we took a grand taxi to Fes and got there around 11:30. Upon arrival, we decided to head over to Marjane, the Moroccan hypermart chain, located on the outskirts of town.

Now, you might a fairly decent idea of what a hypermart is like. I don't. But the best comparison I can make is halfway between a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a full-fledged shopping mall. After all, how many Wal-Marts do you know of which have Lacoste and Swatch boutiques within their doors? Not many, at least from my experience!

Well, in any case, one of the main reasons why I needed to go to Marjane was to purchase a jacket. Being the genius that I am, I had managed to pack everything except for a cold weather jacket. Since Ifrane's temperature fluctuates around 25 to 30 degrees Celsius over the course of a day, this has become a rather serious problem for me! In any case, my family had briefly investigated the cost of shipping the coat and other items to Morocco, but the cost of shipping (around $150-250, depending on the carrier) was to the point that it would be more economical to purchase a nice coat over here.

So, being a bit foolish, I decided to drop into the boutiques first. I think that I realized how bad this idea was when Eddie and I dropped into Lacoste. Indeed, upon asking for the price (in Moroccan derija, no less), we received the price (in French) in euro: a coat for only 300 euro! I decided to check out what was in Marjane proper. Fortunately, they had very nice, simple Italian black wool jackets on sale for around 400 dirhams, or about $50. Even more fortunately, they had them in my size! After getting some other items (mostly food; shopping while fasting is another very, very bad idea), we went on to check out.

Just to throw the very familiar shopping style of Marjane and the ville nouvelle into relief, we then moved onward to a place I had promised myself I would never return: the market in the medina qadima (old city in Arabic). As Fes receives a large number of tourists year-round, the medina is very much built around the tourist industry, meaning that shopkeepers are usually more aggressive (and prices therefore higher) than in cities on the road less traveled. That being said, I would still say that the Fes souk (market) is less aggressive than its counterpart in Marrakech!

Fortunately for me, I had wrapped up all of my planned purchases, meaning that I was not looking for anything in the medina. Unlike shopping in (most of) the fixed-price shops in the ville, one of the centerpieces of shopping in the medina is the ancient and noble art of haggling. It is a game of sorts played by both seller and buyer, and it certainly has many stages. The start is when the seller gets the potential buyer into his (most shopkeepers are male, so political correctness be damned!) shop. Often sellers of high-dollar items, like rugs, may offer his guest some mint tea, the Moroccan national drink, as the buyer looks at various items for sale. Once the buyer sees something he or she likes (many times the owners are very good at figuring out what the buyer wants the most, even if he or she feigns interest), then the next stage - that of negotiation - begins.

The price first given by the seller is never the price at which he intends to sell; most sellers are in fact insulted if the buyer doesn't negotiate the price down, as it doesn't follow the rules of the game. Frequent tactics by sellers include lowering price "because you're a student/American/whatever I want to get you to buy this," commenting on the quality of the product, the good cop/bad cop approach (the second seller is unwilling to drop the price, while the first and more senior seller "forces" a lower price), and preparing the product as if the sale has been completed. Conversely, tactics for the buyer include praising the seller and his goods, claiming a lack of funds (one good method is hiding funds in other pockets or areas, so as to show a lack of money: the poor student act!), and breaking off negotiations/walking, which (if timed correctly) can get a further drop in price.

However, once there is a handshake on a price, it is obligatory for the buyer to purchase; this is yet another rule of the game. The actions of the seller post-sale are a sign of how the buyer has done in the negotiations; if the seller is extremely angry at the buyer, then he or she has gotten a good price, while kindness from the seller probably means that the buyer has overpaid. Then the process begins with new buyers and sellers!

After going through this for what seemed like an eternity, we finally decided to escape the sweltering labyrinth of the Fes medina in order to prepare for ftour at a most unusual place: McDonald's, transcribed into Arabic as "MaakDounaalds." Incredibly, ol' Mickey D's has done a very good job of localizing in Morocco, as they were serving traditional ftour food in addition to their usual menu. Never before have I seen a McDonald's sell harira, dates, and bread alongside Big Macs and the "Royale Cheese" ("You mean they don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?")! After not eating or drinking for the day and walking several kilometers in the medina, I had a veritable feast. One "Maxi Best of..." (think like a large-size value menu) Royale Cheese (which they refused to make plain for some strange reason...), a bottle of strawberry-flavored water, and a Kit-Kat McFlurry. Never before (except for possibly one particular McDonald's in Stephen City, VA, where my dad and I stopped while moving my sister to New York) had McDonald's tasted so incredibly amazing.

After leaving the McDonald's crafted by the hands of Allah, we finally made our way back to Ifrane by grand taxi, tired but happy.

As always, I love getting comments or topic requests, so if you've got any for me, please feel free to email me at golladayp@gmail.com, and I'll see what I can do.

(Unfortunately) Back to the salt mines of academia,
Phillip

Posted by golladayp 17:55 Archived in Morocco Tagged tips_and_tricks

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