I‘ve haggled in a few souks and medina’s in my time. I’ve drunk mint tea over deals in Marrakesh and been chased up alleyways by shop owners finally agreeing to a price in Cairo. I once spent 3 days haggling over a sapphire in Peshawar. I enjoy it believing it to be part of the experience of travel. My daughters however disagree. They are used to price labels or internet shopping, where the only interaction comes from a bored looking assistant or a secure server.
That’s why we enjoyed Tunisia. A trip to the medina in Tunis was viewed by them as an attempt by their parents to inflict long term psychological damage by tearing them away from the beach for a whole morning. As we disappeared into the covered alleyways and winding lanes they shrank behind me as if trying to become invisible. It was fairly early, the crowds had yet to build with the arrival of the coach tours and we were prime fodder for that old favourite “special price for my first customer of the day”.
Yet our progress was surprisingly swift. Of course we were invited into every shop “just to look”. But even when we made the error of either looking interested in something or making eye-contact we were still politely allowed to walk on after giving a friendly smile and a “non, merci”. My youngest soon saw what she wanted. A fine choice. A small brass camel, inlaid with coloured glass and whose saddle opened to reveal a small storage space. The kind of thing a young girl will keep in a treasures box forever.
She wanted it so badly that when told she would have haggle herself she agreed. After some whispered advice from her competitive father she picked it up and asked how much. We were off. The shop owner, a large man with unshaven face and big moustache, took the camel with the reverence normally reserved for crown jewels. After a thorough examination he passed it back with the dismissive 15 dinars, in his estimation the bargain of the year. Too much. 5 dinar, came the small but firm reply. The man looked down and then caved in like a hole in desert sand. A ruffle of blonde hair, a nip of the chin and 5 dinar it was.
Never has a haggle been so easy. Never has an eight-year old been so happy. That small camel has now moved from the treasure category to the heirloom level. Perhaps my 3 days in Peshawar would have been quicker if I’d invested in a blonde wig.