Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chefchaouen, Morocco: I flunked bribery AND negotiation

When you are in a taxi hurtling around mountainous curves at 60+ k/h with a driver listening to the Koran on a cassette player, you have two choices:
1. Hold on to the "Jesus" handle and pray that you don't die,
2. Go with the flow - you're only in Morocco once.

I am sad to say Sara and I were in the latter category as we literally sped away from the border with a man who spoke no English and barely any French.

Our inauspicious start to our time in Morocco began when we read in the guidebook on the (gorgeous, air-conditioned) ferry that if you leave some money in your passport, you will go through more quickly at the border. So we each put 2 USD in our passports, but when we got to the border, we were first shepherded into a health department line, to check if we had swine flu.

As I am sure you have guessed by now, we inadvertently bribed the guys who took our temperatures. But we didn't have the flu, and we got into Morocco. And perhaps because we said the Wayfarer's Prayer, we made it to Chefchaouen in one piece.

We were told it was quiet and picturesque. Everything in Morocco is harsh and sketchy at first: The hot summer's day, the streets without street signs, the dirty flies buzzing on the fruit in the shops, and the men who leer. But eventually, we got accustomed to Chefchaouen. It has beautiful construction, including blue-washed walls. The shopkeepers are pushy but friendly, and on day two I made a purchase of two pairs of earrings. The guy started at 350 dh ($44), so I countered with 250dh ($31). He made a half-offer of 300, which I rejected, and then he caved. The rule in Morocco is that if the negotiating is done in about 3 minutes, it is because you got a bad deal and offered to pay too much. Another hint: He threw in a "free" hamsa. Sara determined that we had grossly overpaid, and has banned me from haggling.

Chefchaouen, especially the pretty lake where the women do their washing and the lovely casbah and the awesome coffee, grew on me a lot. I thought it was such a sleepy town at first, but it turns out everyone in town is out and about in the Casbah square from 9pm - 11pm. Even the three year olds. Thank you to Sara's random friends who insisted we go there.

We arrived in Fez today, and following Thumper's mother's principle: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything. I will ask the Facebook universe only one question, courtesy of Sara: How do you say in Arabic "You kiss your mother with that mouth?"



At 4:03 p.m., Blogger Michael A. Burstein said...

Is US$2 really considered a significant bribe?


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