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8/29/09 Haggling

Every once in a while, I enjoy a good haggle. More often, I just want to hear a price and hand over cash. Not long ago, while wandering around SouqTown, I spotted some plump, juicy grapes. Grapes only recently came into season, and they’ve mostly been small (and rather disappointing, honestly).

These grapes, though, swelled like inch-long green balloons. I casually asked how much they were. “300 rials,” he mumbled, feigning disinterest, holding up 3 fingers.

NB: Rials are Berber units of currency, equal to 1/20 of a dirham. Everyone uses them here. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear mya-o-steen, I think 8 before I think 160.

I hadn’t heard him over the noise of the street, so asked, for clarification, “3 dirhams? 60 rials?” My eyebrows rose along with the pitch of my voice. 3 dh a kilo is a ridiculously good deal on any kind of produce, let alone delicacies like grapes. (For comparison, oranges and tomatoes are usually 4dh/kilo, most veggies are 5dh/kilo, apples are 5-10dh/kilo depending on quality and season, and avocadoes are 25dh/kilo.)

“300 rials,” he repeated, louder. That’s 15dh/kilo. That’s ridiculous.

I laughed derisively and turned to walk away. After a step and a half, he called me back.

“OK,” he said, “250.”

I shook my head. “That’s a lot,” I said ruefully, before walking away.

Again, I made it less than two meters.

“OK, OK, for you, 200.”

10 dh/kilo. Still expensive, but probably a fair price. [Note for Americans and other aliens: That works out to about fifty cents a pound. Have you *ever* gotten farmers-market grapes, sold directly from the vineyard owner, for 50 cents a pound? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I *love* how cheap produce is in Morocco. But still, I live and work on a dollars-to-dirhams budget, which means that this felt like 4 dollars a pound.]

“No, sorry,” I said, walking away once again. This time, he let me go.

And with that, I knew that 200rials/kilo was indeed a fair price. If he’s willing to forego a sale rather than reduce his price further, it means he’s hit his basement.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed to my favorite produce salesperson, Fatima. She’s the only woman shop owner in the souq, which is why I’m so loyal to her. I’m a big believer in putting my money where my principles are, and I believe in female entrepreneurialism, especially in such a massively male-dominated economy.

She was off eating l-fdor, and had left her vegetable stand in the capable hands of her adult son. I asked him what he was charging for grapes. “240 rials,” he answered calmly.

“Ooh, that’s a lot,” I said, sadly.

If his mom (or sister, who often “mans” the shop in their mom’s absence) had been there, I’d have gotten the rock-bottom price the first time I asked, but this is only the second time I’ve seen the son, and he doesn’t know me.

“OK, 220,” he said, agreeably.

I thought about fighting it down to the 200 that the guy on the street had offered, but decided to let that last dirham go. I like Fatima; I don’t need to squeeze every last dirham out of her. 11dh/kilo to Fatima is worth more to me than 10 dh to a guy on the street. So I picked out a bunch and moved to buy them. He waved me off, walked over to the grapes, picked out a better bunch (which was, yes, bigger and heavier and therefore more expensive, but which also had no dud grapes on it, as my bunch had), and rang those up. It came to a little under a kilo. I handed over the 8 dirhams he asked for and headed back to the hotel, swinging the fruit cheerfully in its plastic bag.

‘Cause sometimes, haggling isn’t about getting the best price. Sometimes it’s about getting the right price.

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