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The medina tour or: how I learned to stop worrying and love to buy

June 27, 2016

The tour guide, a perpetually monotone, poker-faced type with a tweed brown jacket, gave me the first taste of true Moroccan salesmanship—the sneaky upsell. “We start by taking a tour of the city walls. Then we go to the medina.” I agreed, sounded good. “We go to my car now.” Halfway to his car, he turns to me and says, “City walls are 250 dirhams, medina is 400 dirhams.”(~$25 and $40.) Of course, Abdul only told me about the medina tour. I grudgingly agreed. He registered no reaction to my visible annoyance, which annoyed me even more. I was already wishing I had opted for the Rough Guides self-tour.

This wouldn’t be his last sleight of hand. My first words to him were, “I’m not interested in shopping.” “OK, no problem.” Our first destination, after the city walls, was a pottery store. Prefaced, of course, by a tour of the store intended to make it seem like an attraction, rather than just a store. Sort of. Sometimes.

I’ll admit, the pottery tour was genuinely interesting. Pottery has a number of stages involved—spinning, painting, firing, or, in the case of mosaics, cutting and assemblage of the patterns. But as the day went on, these ‘store tours’ became more ‘store’ and less ‘tour’. And I became more annoyed each time, especially with my tour guide, who prefaced every tour with a grandiloquent, “And now, you will go on a tour to see how traditional Morocco <pottery, rugs, leather, argan oil, Berber rugs…> are made.”

Pottery tour

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o   Total tour time: 15 minutes. Interesting. A bunch of pots, but interesting.

o   Sales experience: A dude brought me into a room full of pottery and said, “Buy what you want, don’t buy if you don’t want.”

o   Purchases: 150 dirhams ($15) for two earthenware spice bowls, haggled down from 180 dirhams.

Tanneries tour

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o   Total tour time: 10 minutes. Tanneries smell horrible, a function of the pigeon shit used to separate the fur from the skin. In spite of that, you can’t leave Morocco without checking out their beehive-like pools of white dung and colored leather dyes, their hangers full of pre-dye skin, their huge barrel washer (“like a giant washing machine”), and their dozens of men traversing the whole thing smoking cigarettes.

o   Sale experience: A mild-mannered man guided me into the shop through two floors of clothes. Each time I asked for the exit, he would delicately direct me to another room with more clothes. Eventually I figured out what he was doing and left.

o   Purchases: A small black belt, 50 dirhams ($5), haggled down from 50 dirhams.

Rug tour

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o   Total tour time: 5 minutes. Mostly consisting of two women pulling threads into a rug. The tour guide delivered tidbits of the rug making process with pretended awe, “Do you know it takes two women a full year to make a rug??”

o   Sale experience: A barrel-chested barrel of a man named Hassan greeted me with a booming voice and orders to his staff to make me a pot of mint tea (a common tactic in Moroccan shops). He proceeded to tell me all about the differences between Moroccan and Berber rugs, how reliable and upstanding the government certification process is for Fasian rugs, how I didn’t need to buy any rugs if I didn’t want to, and how I should buy at least three rugs (“One for your parents, one for yourself, and one to sell”). He repeated the three rugs line at least five times. His sales associates then proceeded to unfurl rug after rug in front of me for my appreciation, after which Hassan invited me to, in royal style, wave away or grant consideration to each one.

o   Purchases: Though Hassan all but assured me I would become a millionaire many times over by shipping myself out as many rugs as I could buy and selling them for ten times the price, I purchased none. Upon refusing them all, Hassan looked at me like I had spit on him.

Rug tour #2

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o   Total tour time: 2 minutes. Mostly consisted of watching a dude move a rug loom around.

o   Sales experience: A harried salesman showed me some fabrics and grunted “Berber scarfs, good. Berber handkerchiefs, good. Buy for your momma,” then got sucked into a vortex of clearly more lucrative German tourists.

o   Purchases: None

Argan oil and spice tour

o   Total tour time: 1 minute. The saleswoman pointed to a woman sitting on the ground grinding what looked like a nut on what looked like an orange reamer and said, “Look, this is how you make argan oil.” She waved her hands around a little, in that way you do when pretending to care.

o   Sales experience: The saleswoman proceeded to show me spice after spice in spite of my repeated refusals, “No, I don’t want any argan oil. No, I don’t want any coriander. No, I don’t want any ground coriander. No, I don’t want any coriander-infused argan oil.” After each refusal she would look at me like I was a complete idiot. I had a suspicion that this lady was the cruelest salesperson in Fes.

Purchases: I bought $15 worth of saffron just to escape.

Rug tour #3

o   Total tour time: 0 minutes. The tour basically consisted of a random man greeting my tour guide on the street and convincing him to bring me into his shop to sell me rugs. And then the inevitable “And now, you will go on a tour to see how…”

o  Sales experience: I told the guy five times that I didn’t want any rugs while he stubbornly monologued the standard Moroccan rapport-script: “Where are you from? Ah, you are American? Ah, I have a cousin in New York. America is a very great place. You must need carpets for your big American home. We will give you very good price.” I had to dodge a guy attempting to force a glass of mint tea into my hand. As I left, the owner and my guide joked out loud that I must not have enough money to buy Moroccan rugs.

Purchases: None, and I briefly considered using my previously purchased belt to strangle my guide.

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