It’s a Hassle-Off!

By Perrin

Istanbul v. Marrakech touts in a battle of wit and shamelessness

Marrakech bakers realize that no words are necessary to make tourists charge the dessert table

Djemaa el Fna, it’s time to wake up!

In Marrakech, taxi drivers run all tourists directly to Djemaa el Fna square.

The square is alive. In the morning, it awakens to flute-tooting cobra-charmers and boisterous monkeys. The touts are the loudest of all: “Ape photo opp, ten dirham!” “Oops, snake’s on your shoulders. I remove for twenty dirham. Quick, he bites.”

The square sells, smells and sunbathes until dusk. As dark encroaches, sixty-two foldable restaurant stalls spring up. Each is efficiently identified by number—and unofficially, by aroma—rather than name. (I endorse #21.)

Mint tea with new friends at Stall 21

Souks branch off Djemaa el Fna, upping the ante on chaos. Smokey couscous carts, bright Islamic paintings, and jagged sabers crowd narrow alleys. Compressed spaces and Alice-in-Wonderland mazes enhance even the mildest vendor’s hassling prowess. It’s hard to ignore a tout if you must squeeze past him so closely that you can smell his Rogaine. It is even harder if you stroll by seven times in a blasé attempt to find the exit.

Lost in souk world with Josh (right), an Australian with a sizeable Bob Marley tattoo. Everywhere we went, touts yelled, “One love!”

Top sales lines included:

“Pretty girl, beautiful price.” Ignored, the same salesman retorts, “Ugly girl. Fat ass.”

“Are you looking for a husband?” One ring-vendor inquires. Then, his voice squeaking with hope, he adds, “Or maybe just sex?”

“You like to belly dance?” I thought this was a cat call, but I turned and saw that the vendor sells sequined, stomach-baring costumes. Fair enough.

Halloween costumes, ladies?


In Istanbul, the Grand Bizarre is—dare I say it—orderly. Good-natured sellers adjust prices, but less substantially. Tea is also part of the equation. One vendor gave us a final offer of 70 lira, or 65 lira if we drank apple tea to celebrate the deal. This is standard – Lonely Planet cautions Istanbul bargain seekers that they will need to drink tea by the jug-full.

Istanbul’s Grand Bizarre hat vendors got a kick out of dressing up us American Girl dolls

Cutest touts in the Istanbul spice market

Touts angling for attention, or just aching with ennui, shouted arbitrary lines:

“I’m the best!” (At what?)

“Where did you get your trousers?”

“Can I please tell you my life story?”

“How was your bath?” (Perhaps he noticed our wet hair)

“Are you still lost?” (Admittedly, that was not an arbitrary question)

“Don’t worry about me, I’m gay.”

“Can I hassle you?”

Back in New York City, my job had involved a good deal of negotiation. When I hit the souks this month, I hope I represented with Chris Matthews tenacity. (Family: I paid twenty percent of the asking price for your Christmas gifts. That’s love.)

Fishing for a deal at the Marrakech night market

As I haggled, merchants of Marrakech and Istanbul bent over backwards to explain significant cost adjustments. Some purported grounds for reduction:

– Barrack Obama is great, so Americans get discounts

– First client of the day is good luck, and you are first. (This is profound reasoning when the vendor has exchanged goods for money during your conversation.)

– Husbandless women are to be pitied

One salesman asked where I hailed from. He guessed France, then Britain.

When I divulged, he bellowed, “You’re from USA and you bargain?” Perhaps he considers Americans rich, stupid, or lazy; or all three. Most touts are none of those things. I’m glad we were able to converse despite perceived differences – and regardless of the approach.

Turkish dog seller Eser poses with his business partner Halil (name meaning “buddy”)

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About sistersbailey

We are Perrin and Sarah Bailey, collectively known as “The Sisters Bailey”. The moniker was born out of a crazy weekend at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and it was the first time we had ever been referred to as one unit. We grew up in Alexandria, VA together and then separated for college - Perrin to The University of Pennsylvania and Sarah to Northwestern University – and somehow landed together in New York after graduation. It was in the midst of the hustle of Manhattan that we became friends for the first time in years. Somehow we landed jobs in the same industry - Sarah worked in marketing at HBO and Perrin managed creative digital promotions for her media agency’s main client, Disney - just three blocks from one another. One day we decided to leave our jobs, sell our belongings and travel abroad with a backpack and a collective savings of $10K. The stories of our continuing adventures and those of other fearless travelers are here to inspire you.
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