Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hurray for Haggling

A few weeks ago I went on holiday to Morocco. Apart from the obvious culture difference, what really struck me was the very un-British haggling at the souqs.

The art of trying to barter the price of your chosen item (usually a carpet, slippers, lantern or teapot) to a reasonable amount without appearing overly keen, too disinterested, too rich, too poor or insulting.

I've only ever experienced this in Camden Market here in the UK, and I really cannot imagine it happening in Oxford. Picture the scene: the Covered market, that swanky leather shop, a gorgeous handbag priced £40 and you offer a tenner and your sunhat. The shop-keeper waves his hands and insists the handbag is worth £50 but he's knocked it down to £40 just for you, because you're worth 10 camels in your prettiness. You shake your head and turn to leave the shop. The shop-keeper embraces you and offers you the bag for £20, seeing as you're such good friends. You leave, triumphant in your victory, but slightly worried that the next person will only pay £15.

It's hard to imagine, but this really does happen in Morocco. In fact, to make the situation even more realistic, the shop-keeper would have found you on Cornmarket Street, told you about his great deals and walked you to his shop himself, with promises of mint tea (well, probably Earl Grey as the Oxford equivalent). As you left the shop, his brother/cousin/father/son would have accosted you, asking if you were looking for a cheap restaurant, a great rate on a taxi, or somewhere to stay that night. It's certainly a bit more adventurous than looking reviews up on Qype first, but it's pretty embarrassing trying to say no.

Maybe Oxford would be a friendler place if we adopted some of these Moroccan selling tactics. It would be nice to have a cup of mint tea while browsing Accessorize, to knock a few quid off the price of a CD in HMV purely by seeming sufficiently disinterested, and to be called a 'beautiful Princess' or 'English King' every time we went entered shops. Then again, it's quite nice to be anonymous, to laugh at the awful clothes in some shops without offending the shopkeeper whose wife slaved a month to make said clothes. Perhaps we should stick with our Buy One Get One Frees and our January Sales. Shame they're such a long way off...

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