Street hawkers, also known as street sellers, street vendors, and the most godforsaken spawn of satan ever to walk the earth, are rampant in Morocco, especially the main tourist cities of Marrakech and Fez. At first I was polite, then turned to ignoring them, then I noticed something: these street traders kept coming back to the same rehearsed routines/offers to get tourists to give them money, like how out of touch politicians use the same buzzwords to get votes.
1. The Early Bird Discount
You’re on vacation in Morocco and you want to relax but it’s your first day and you’re feeling energetic, so you wake up with the first throes of daylight and the dawn call to prayer. You stare at the ceiling and think, “Yes, today I will be cultural!” You go outside and the narrow streets of the souqs (street markets) are empty so you wander aimlessly, content with the realisation that even if you do get hopelessly lost, you’ve got all day to un-lose yourself.
An old man with a limp approaches you, so you smile back and think to yourself, “Yes, here I am doing an adventure!” He asks a question and steers you into talking about spices, and invites you to come see his spice shop. You’re too far in to refuse now, you have a rapport, so you follow him. He shows you lots of jars full of spices and various other things that look like they’ve been scooped up off the ground in a park, and asks if you want to buy any. You hadn’t actually planned on buying anything today for the arthritis you’ll get in 25 years’ time but before you can say anything he says, “you’re first person today! Special discount for you!”
This is the Early Bird Discount.
2. The Nepotism Discount
The Nepotism Discount can only occur after another discount has been offered, and refused. Upon your refusal, the street hawker will grin and say, “okay, okay, we friends anyway, you good person, you can visit my uncle [brother/cousin/grandfather]. Follow!” So you follow him out of politeness, already regretting speaking to the first hawker, and you might end up visiting several different people, selling everything from carpets and scarfs to herbal medicines, teapots, and jewellery that looks silver but is obviously totally not silver. “Real silver!” they’ll cry. “Authentic real silver! I will get my uncle to give you special discount.”
This family link is the Nepotism Discount.
3. The Sympathy for You Discount
Before you all go gallivanting off to North Africa to seek out the Sympathy for You discount, not everyone will be offered this. The Sympathy for You discount is reserved for those travellers who look poor, most likely good-looking young backpackers on gap years or students on summer vacations, invariably seen wearing rucksacks, shorts, and a bracelet they got from a buddhist retreat in the mountains of Tibet at the start of their trip of self-discovery. Street hawkers will say, “You do not have much money, we understand, yes, so we give you special price.”
This is the Sympathy for You Discount.
4. The Sympathy for Me Discount
Also known as the Guilt Discount, this is offered to those travellers who have rebuffed all previous offers. The street hawker will then become philosophical and say, “You’re good person. You have good heart. We are friends, yes? You don’t buy anything, that’s okay. We still friends.” Then you think that maybe this guy is all right after all, so you soften and you’re extra polite and pretend that that hideous carpet he’s holding looks nice, and you sip the sugary tea with mint leaves in that you’ve been brought from some random person’s house. The hawker says, “It’s fine, take time, look at what we have, and if you don’t buy, that okay. I know you have good heart anyway. We happy for you to look, but we hope you like something. Grandma very hungry.”
Now you feel guilty and you think, “If I don’t buy anything that poor old widow with the missing teeth rocking from side to side in the corner over there is going to have to gnaw on a shoe for nourishment. Shit.” If you now buy the authentic camel hair carpet for €200 (they accept all major credit cards, PayPal and bitcoin, and offer free shipping to 120 countries), you’ve fallen prey to the Sympathy for Me or Guilt Discount.
5. The “You Win” Discount.
This discount is used on those savvy travellers who noticed the Rolex peeking out of that old widow’s torn sleeve; you know that this is all a game and these street hawkers are doing altogether very well for themselves. But you still want to take home some authentic Moroccan Argan massage oil for a night of steamy passion for when you finally ask out that cute pony-tailed girl at work that you keep accidentally on purpose bumping into when you make your morning coffee. So you decide on a price you think is fair and stubbornly stick to it.
At first the hawker laughs and says, “You silly! This is authentic Argan oil,” then quotes you an absurd price. He then offers you the Early Bird Discount because the first customer of the day.
You repeat your initial offer, so the hawker says okay, “we go visit my uncle, he’ll tell you fair price.” So you visit his uncle and cousin and various other family members who each offer you various things, all at the Nepotism Discount rate.
Then the first hawker will keep leading you in a circle through the narrow streets, past stalls selling pirate copies of Duran Duran’s greatest hits and shit Nic Cage films on DVD, commenting on how your shoes look old and that he understands you can’t afford to pay much for souvenirs, so he quotes you a little lower price at the Sympathy for You discount for his authentic massage oil.
You repeat your initial offer, so the hawker says he admires you for sticking to your price but tells you he’s trying to make money for his family which is “very big” and his cousin (a different one, presumably) can’t work because he fell from a tree when collecting pineapples, so they’re relying on him. You feel a pang of sympathy but your cynicism overrides it and you reject the Sympathy for Me Discount.
You repeat your initial offer, and the hawker says, “Okay! Okay! You are tough, friend. Very tough, but you know fair.” You smile and nod and do a mental fist pump, and again repeat your initial offer, and add, “Yes?” The hawker smiles back, the wide grin of someone you know you shouldn’t trust, “Okay, you win, here’s my final offer, as low as I can go…” and offers you a price still aggravatingly higher than the price you know is fair.
This is the You Win Discount.
Now if you still refuse and start to walk away, one of two things will happen:
1) The hawker runs up to you and says, “OKAY! DEAL!” and you finally exchange money for goods, and you can carry a bottle of massage oil you’ll never use around for the rest of your trip and lose in a cupboard at home. Or…
2) The hawker runs up to you and says, “Tip, my friend? I help you. You help me.”
You want to scream, but you pretend you don’t hear him and walk away. You’ve had quite enough adventuring for one day. You pull out your phone. It’s only 11 a.m. You sigh loudly. A hawker hears you and comes over. “You seem tired, my friend. I have something that will help. Follow me. Special price, just for you.”