Thursday, September 16, 2010

Being Rich in a Poor World

Azemmour does not have a big foreign tourist presence and because of this, we were greeted by smiling faces and happy salutations.  People of all ages were friendly and kind – it felt good to be able to say hi to people without being aggressively invited into a shop “just to look”. Our prior experiences in Fes had not been like this.  In the big cities, foreign tourists abound and their presence has perhaps changed the behaviors of the shop owners.  This is completely understandable, but can make for a tedious time.  It did not feel good to ignore people or to be constantly on guard.  At times, I wasn’t seeing these shop owners as individuals with different personalities, agendas and approaches.   It is not enjoyable to recognize this in one’s self and doubly so when you can’t pull out of it.  It is something I will strive to avoid in further travel.
The day trip was the perfect end to our stay in Morocco.  Tourism is big business in Morocco and the Arabs are bargainers which meant that we too were bargainers.  It is a sport and to not bargain would be to offend, but having to constantly do mental currency conversions was a bit tiring.  We are truly filthy rich compared to Moroccans.  With that said, we are not filthy rich in the US and have to budget our money.  It was difficult to convey that we could not just toss around money – in other words, I often felt stingy or greedy because they could not understand why we weren’t buying countless Berber carpets.  As it was, we bought two.  We based our price on the price per square meter for a Persian rug we bought over 10 years ago.  I think we did okay in our bargaining – especially after talking with some others on the ship who were quoted prices 10 times those that we were.  I guess our casual dress and lack of jewelry worked in our favor. 
The other thing that works in our favor is that we made an honest attempt to learn a few words – basic greetings, etc. in Arabic – and spoke in terms of the local currency, not dollars.  This last thing drove me crazy.  I am not sure why, but there were people who constantly asked for prices in dollars.  How would they feel if travelers came to the US and asked to spend Yen and for instant conversions to Yen?  I was also bothered by the fact that some folks did not even know that Arabic and French were the languages most used and that they seemed frustrated by a lack of English speakers.  These folks were not particularly demanding or loud and are nice people, but I was embarrassed.  I am absolutely sure that I have some offending behaviors and am not the most adept at languages, but I try in earnest.

1 comment:

  1. Shame on those people for not making the attempt to learn the basics of communicating in Arabic and/or French. It's a small, simple gesture that goes a long way and shows respect to the locals. After all, the travelers are guests. I can imagine that it was embarrassing for you.