Friday, September 16, 2011
At a souk in the Medina of Marrakesh. (Mom, I promise I did not see the "no photo" sign until much later! Not that this would have stopped you from taking a picture!)
Update: No newsletter or word-a-day, on Monday. I'll be in Avignon, chez le plasticien, or plastic surgeon. Wish me luck (it's only a consultation, following the skin scare). Also, wish Jean-Marc & our crew courage--for it's the first day of the red wine harvest!
vexer (vexay) verb
: to upset, to morally injure
il m'a vexé = he upset me
elle est vexée = she is offended
se vexer = to be hurt (emotionally)
A person who is vexé might also feel irked, miffed, or annoyed--or quite over and done with you! (as was the man in the following story... read on....
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
While in Marrakech for un mariage, I joined a group of wedding guests for a visit to the souq--an outdoor market selling everything from oriental rugs to virility drugs (and in the "everything in between category", please know that for a certain number of dirham coins you can dance with a wide-headed, beady-eyed serpent, while the snake charmer holds your destiny in his flute filled hands!).
I watched in amusement as we tourists let ourselves be lured into the crowded stalls of the bustling bazaar. "Come in, come in!" The stall owners beckoned, as we navigated the maze of shops. "It doesn't cost anything to look!" they called after the shy or suspicious shoppers. "And if you find it anywhere for less--I'll give it to you for free!" But I wasn't in the market for anything more than a treasured experience, and my fellow soukers--not to be confused with "suckers", for they were not at all falling prey to the peddlers--were helping to grant this wish. I watched as my friend Isa purchased, from the street chemist, Moroccan dye powder (for painting her kitchen) in canary yellow, Mediterranean blue, and brick red. As the shop-keeper transferred the colorful powder from large mason jars to tiny plastic baggies, he pointed to the opposite wall (covered from floor to ceiling with more mason jars, inside of which there were mangled roots and dried leaves and other mysterious things). "Can I interest you in some viagra pour femme?" My friend laughed at the shopkeeper's gumption. "Je n'ai vraiment pas besoin, Monsieur!" Isa's husband, Eric, who sat on a nearby bench, shrugged his shoulders but could not hide his pride. I was impressed with Isa's moxie, but I couldn't help but picture the locals, or the modest women in head-scarfs, and I wondered about the demand (a popular one?) for such a love potion. Out of respect, I quickly let the image (that of an eyelash-batting berber) dissipate in my mind's eye. Best to leave the shroud of mystery in its place, for such is the beauty of a foreign land.
Weaving in and out of the market stalls, our small group purchased Moroccan slippers, or les babouches, silver earrings, cendriers, tassels, and pottery. And when Temptation finally met me, she came swiftly calling from outside the ironmonger's. There, in a shopfront no wider than a minivan, I found my objet fétiche.
It was an antique door-knocker (much like this one) shaped like a hand curled over a metal ball. The detail was such that the hand even had une bague on it! I had seen and photographed the hand-heurtoirs, but they were rarely found for purchase.
This one was unique in that it was a mini version of the others. The shopkeeper unhooked the iron knocker from the display and set it in my hand, where I cradled it, admiring its colorful facets, in faded blue and green and burgundy. The paint had been scrubbed off, leaving a fragmented patina which lended so much life to the object that, if it were mine, I wouldn't dream of tampering with it further. It couldn't be more accidentally perfect!
The peddler told me a story about these iron hands, seen on doors throughout his country: "...placed at the entrance of one's home, they protect one from the evil eye!" His own eyes narrowed as he studied his potential buyer....
I nodded, further captured by the history, which I had never thought of or even wondered about before. "Combien?" I asked the skinny shopkeeper.
The antique piece was 50 euros. Too much for me--I had only 100 dirham--enough for lunch, but no where near enough to buy this unique, evil spirit repelling door piece (not that I had plans to put it on a door: It might be used on a wooden medicine cabinet, a desk, a beehive mailbox, an armoire--or used as a paper weight or an interesting bibelot--the possibilities were endless!)
Noticing my first attempt at negotiation, a member of our group wandered over.
"Combien?" Jean-Philippe asked, only to get the same answer from the owner ("500 dirham!").
"Too much!" my souk gardien informed the skinny adversaire. "Let's go!"
And with that, I let myself be led aside in what would be one of many moves in The Game of Negotiation. The stall keeper called us back, "450, then!"
"Non, mais, ce n'est même pas la peine!" "At this rate, it's not even worth negotiating," Jean-Philippe answered, brushing the man off, and I followed my friend to the next stall, as we carefully left our ears behind, at the thin man's shop--lest we miss the next offer!
"Take it for 250!" The man shouted.
Cupping one hand over his mouth, Jean-Philippe whispered to me: "How much do you have?"
"Only a hundred," I admitted, feeling the first pangs of guilt--for I did not mean to take advantage of the thin man!--but before I could be completely overcome by my conscience, Jean-Philippe made the final offer: "100 dirham!"
The thin man shook his head in aggravation. "Non! 120 dirham!"
I could not believe it -- the treasured object might be mine for 120 dirham--almost one-fifth of the price! Only, that is when I learned that the twenty dirham that were needed to seal the deal were nowhere to be found. My friend had spent all his money in the previous shops. The others in our group had disappeared and I stood there with my 100 dirham note, not daring ask the man to lower the price any further.
I rifled through my wallet, finding only a two-euro coin. But two euros did equal 20 dirham... if only the man would accept foreign currency--as the other shop owners had.
I had wandered away from the salesman in order to check my purse for any money that might have slipped into its very seams, and by the time returned to make a final offer, the shop owner ignored me! I showed him my 100 dirham bill and the two euro coin. He shook his head, angrily, and waved me away. "Je l'ai vendu!" he snapped, dismissing me. "It's been sold!"
The thin man's reply came as swift as a slap in the face. More than the disappointment of losing the chance to buy the door-knocker, I felt a surge of shame. I knew the stall-owner had not sold the antique hand, or "chaser of evil eyes", as he had earlier taught me. He seemed to have yanked it from the display and hidden it away--after very nearly being thieved by an evil tourist! His message was clear: I would be the last person on earth to have the privilege of buying the door-knocker! All that was left to do now, was to SCAMPER back to the little hole from which I had crawled out of, while searching my purse seams for loose change.
"The shop owner is vexed," my friend Jean-Philippe, explained, feeling horrible that I'd missed the chance at buying the antique. Only what Jean-Philippe didn't realize is that he wasn't to blame. What's more, I'd taken away with me a priceless souvenir: one that would be a valuable lesson in respect: there is a limit to negotiation; in a healthy transaction there must be a positive balance... and that sometimes leaves a fine line between finding a good advantage for oneself... and taking advantage of another.
I never meant to vex or to take advantage of the thin man--and I yearned to turn back and let him know this truth... The idea came to me that I might even give him, flat out--for keeps!--the 100 dirham and the two euros, to boot--a steal, after all, for this lesson in humility! Only, out of respect for the one vexed, I did not turn back. In so preserving his self-righteousness, indeed--his very dignity--I dragged on.
Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments and stories of your own are welcome, here, in the comments box.
Selected French Vocabulary
un mariage = marriage
viagra pour femme = women's viagra
le cendrier = ashtray
combien? = how much?
le bibelot = knick-knack
adversaire = opponent
un objet fétiche = a favorite (collected) object
une bague = a ring
un heurtoir = (door) knocker
The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.
While walking along the ruisseau, Braise, Smokey, and I stopped in our tracks, and stood mesmerized by these dragonflies. Read a tender story about "The Lost Libellule," or dragonfly, here.
A Message from Kristi: Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.
Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety
Great story and a great lesson in negotiating, Kristin. I wish I had the nerve/guts to negotiate like Jean-Philippe did.
Good luck on your visit to le plasticien and tell the red wine harvesters to be gentle with those grapes.
Posted by: Bill in St. Paul | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Pour tous les soins que ce médecin fournit aux pauvres, il ne reçoit aucuns honoraires.
For all the care that this doctor gives to the poor, he receives no fees.
Posted by: gail bingenheimer | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Wow, Kristin what a marvelous "moral" to the story.
"...a valuable lesson in respect: there is a limit to negotiation; in a healthy transaction there must be a positive balance... and that sometimes leaves a fine line between finding a good advantage for oneself... and taking advantage of another."
I've copied it down with hopes of applying it someday in a biblical teaching on respect.
Posted by: Tom from Detroit | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Reminds me of bartering in Mexico. Out of curiosity, how durable are the paint powders bought there? Are they permanent and scrubbable?
Posted by: Marcia | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Oops. I forgot to add that I will certainly give you credit for the quote. I think I'll start with Aretha (R-E-S-P-E-C-T), end with your quote, and insert Jesus in between! Whaddaya think?
Posted by: Tom from Detroit | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:09 PM
..love les libelles! Great pic....Did you see the dentist selling false teeth at the big square in Marrakesh? He got so angry when I took his photo. I had no idea. But further into the melée of that noisy, smelly, colourful, circuslike place, I really understood: they're earning their living. Going about their daily work and the tourists are treating them like animals in a zoo. Click, click, click, no wonder they want some dosh for a photo! I automatically drew out my camera again to take a pic of the women hennaing each other, but quickly put it away when I saw the thunderous look on one woman's face. She even came after me and pinched me angrily on the arm, hissing "don't you take photos, madame!!" So after that, I didn't! They are a very haughty people and I felt the us/them polarisation there very distinctly.
Posted by: Maureen | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Excellent piece, Kristin ... all the "players" are described very clearly by action alone. You've made them familiar to the reader ... Well done!
Posted by: Bill Facker | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Kristi - I was transported to your Moroccan market, all of the time wondering why I wasn't there with you. Your story is priceless, please send it on to a travel magazine.
Posted by: Jules Greer | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Nice story and vivid description.
Most times, I avoid going to souks and other similar markets because I have absolutely no skills at negotiating a price :(. I once gave it a shot at a lovely market in China, where I spotted a beautiful dress. The end result of the negotiation game was similar to your story - I came away dejected when the sales lady refused to sell it at the price I quoted. I still reminisce about that dress sometimes :).
Posted by: Anita | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 04:45 PM
I think bargaining is difficult for most Americans because we do not need to do it in our daily lives. There are set prices for everything for most occasions so there is no need to negotiate (except garage sales, antique stores, etc.)
As a past Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon (West Africa) I had to learn to bargain for daily needs. There the price usually ended up being 50% of the original asking price. Knowing that in advance helped me greatly to negotiate. One took their time with the banter, did not rush, then finally settled on a agreed upon price.
Posted by: Cathy | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I'd give almost anything to own one of those door knockers, which I photograph endlessly also. Negotiating is not innate for Americans, but it is true that there has to be a certain level of give and take. I know some people who, when buying a car or shopping at a garage sale or whatever, are so sure that they are going to be taken advantage of that they refuse to bargain fairly. I've seen them walk away from deals because the price wouldn't be lowered by ten more dollars in their favor during the negotiation. They're just rude and stubborn.
I've also seen Americans at French markets act like everything is up for negotiation. Before they even establish a relationship or say hello they are wanting a discount on a dress from the street vendor, etc. I talk, I compliment, I respect and at the market I've gotten extra fruit thrown in my bag with my purchase, free flowers, discounts on clothes, free scarves added to my purchases, etc. I'm happy with a 10-20% markdown If I want something bad enough and don't have the money on me, I ask them to hold it and go find the money or the atm machine.
Posted by: Julie F in St. Louis, MO | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Positive thoughts for Monday are your best ally.
Jean-Marc.....bon chance avec la vendage.
Posted by: joie/carmel,ca | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 08:46 PM
I wish you and JM the best as you each face your own challenges in the coming week. Please let us know the outcome as we are all praying for your success. And, of course, I thank you for your lovely, heart-felt rendering of the souk adventure! And the beautiful photos! Merci!
Posted by: Candy in CO | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Years ago, in Egypt, I had to negotiate with a seller because of the money situation. There were shortages of cash, particularly small bills, and especially of coins. There was a tendency for sellers of goods to want to round up the purchase because they couldn't make change. I figured the rounded amount was too high, so in one transaction, I asked them, after paying for a small footed bowl, to give me a small bowl as change. I still have both of them.
Posted by: Marianne Rankin | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:42 PM
I mistyped the last sentence - it should have been "small bell as change."
I encountered a similar situation when I ordered a cartouche - my name spelled in hieroglyphics. They kept saying it would be ready, and time was running out . Finally I told them, truthfully, that I was going to be catching a plane, and if they wanted their money, they had better bring the cartouche. It was delivered promptly.
Posted by: Marianne Rankin | Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:44 PM
There is a quote by someone wise that goes: "Life is a long lesson in humility.".
Personally, I think your charm would have been worth the 20 dirham. His loss. :-)
Posted by: Karen Whitcome (Towson, MD. USA) | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Great writing, Kristin. One of your best essays.
Posted by: Libbie | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Great story Kristin! Great (forbidden :-)photo too. The hand-knocker that got away from you is known in Spain as the hand of Fatima, la mano de Fatima. I believe she was the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, but I could be wrong about that. One used to see them in all sizes (and qualities)on doors in Spain, especially in Andalucia. The cast iron ones (often cruder & less artistic) usually got painted over as the door they were hung on changed colors over the years... black, blue, beige. We still have a really nice brass one on our door. But someone stole the strike plate. I have a feeling that's why you don't see them in Spain as much nowadays. Valuable things like that usually get stolen quickly. Unlike in the days of Franco!
Posted by: Augusta Elmwood | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 04:42 AM
I loved the story. I tried that once in TJ (Mexico), but I was terrible at negotiations. :)
Good luck to you both in the week to come! Hugs!
Posted by: Lisa A., CA | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Valuable lesson. In all areas of life, we must strive for win/win outcomes. This is true of relationships with others as well as buying and selling. We have all been in the situation when we have decided that NO, enough is enough, and walked away from a situation when we felt we were being exploited. Having said that I have just paid an exorbitant amount for three sets of folding doors, because I was so tired of looking and finally found something right and decided to buy them just to get it sorted out! Hardly negotiated at all. C'est la vie!
Posted by: Lynda | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM
Beautiful, Kristin, thank you sharing this experience--important for us to have this balance of respect in every encounter. Loved meeting you and Jean-Marc at your home with Beth and Lisa this summer. Jackie
Posted by: Jackie Durham | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 12:56 PM
Thank you Kristin, for another life lesson. The opposite kind of situation happened at our home a few weeks ago. I heard the story from my husband when after he came into the kitchen with a box of beautiful ripe peaches. While I was working in the kitchen, and Gary was in the garage, an older man in a truck pulled into our driveway. He was selling homegrown peaches this year as his wife was not well enough to put them up in jars. The price was a ridiculously low 5 dollars. Whether there was any haggling on how high he might go, I'm not sure, but I could imagine in Gary's head there could have been. A decent 25 dollars sealed the deal, and both Gary and the man reached an agreement. I was the lucky one who reaped the rewards, and have made two pies - one for my friend with a broken arm and one for my sister's birthday - and Gary and I both have had our share. Fortune, whether good or bad, is tempered by sharing.
Posted by: Esther | Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 07:26 PM
You will be in my thoughts and prayers on Monday. Love your blog. Sending you as much good energy as I can.
Posted by: Nancy | Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Positive thoughts and prayers for both you and Jean Marc on Monday. I'm confident that all will go well for you both.
Posted by: Susan Carter | Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 05:12 AM
Ne te reproche pas, chère Kristin. Le marchand n'est pas vexé, à mon avis. Il doit s'y habituer. Il était simplemenr fâché qu'il n'a pas pu te vendre sa marchandise, à un prix élevé.
Ton histoire me rappelle un autre incident. Ma copine Filippine a appris l'art de marchander, à son mari Américain. Lors leur visite aux Philippines, le mari est sorti faire les courses tout seul. Il ne parle pas le dialecte de la région, mais il sait marchander. Il était si content de pouvoir faire abaisser le prix d'un certain objet. De retour à la maison, il a demandé à sa femme ce que signifie "Koriput American". Ma copine éclata de rire en m'expliquant que la marchande a nommé son mari "stringy American". Et elle ajoute que tous ces marchands pensent que tous les Améicains sont riches et c'est façile à les tricher.
Posted by: Millie | Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 05:55 AM
Do you know the expression "Quel souk?" I learned it in a seminar several years ago. It means "What a mess!" After teaching the phrase to my high school students, they delighted in using it all the time!
Posted by: Dottie Bennett | Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 12:24 PM
You spread so much goodness and love to the world. May life treat you tenderly tomorrow.
Posted by: Esther | Monday, September 19, 2011 at 02:18 AM
Comment s'est passée ta visite chez le chirurgien plasticien? Bon courage, chère Kristin, and Good luck to JM and his crew on the first day of the red wine harvest!!
Posted by: Millie | Monday, September 19, 2011 at 07:38 PM
C'est simplement pour tout clarifier. Je viens de voir que j'ai fait une faute de frappe dans mon commentaire donné plus tôt. J'ai voulu dire, pour la traduction de "koriput American", "stingy, cheapskate..." et ce n'est pas "Stringy...".
Posted by: Millie | Monday, September 19, 2011 at 08:31 PM
"Non, mais, c'est n'est même pas la peine!"
This doesn't look correct......is it???
J'ai raison ou j'ai tort..........
Posted by: Jane Frazier | Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 07:25 PM