Purchasing Power and Christmas Shopping / by George Bajalia

As I prepare for my trip to the US for the holidays, I’ve been dutifully stopping in the stores I always avoided before, hoping to find the perfect Christmas gifts. It turns out that I was avoiding these shops for good reason. Several times now I have been quoted a “real Moroccan price” I know to be more than triple the price any Moroccan would pay. For the most part, I’m looking for gifts a bit different than the normal tourist trinket. Thankfully, I have some made friends with a few store owners a long time ago who have been giving me some very helpful advice about prices and quality. 

Today, however, I encountered a situation that really gave me pause. Without getting into too many specifics (and ruining the surprise for the gift recipient), I stopped into a craftsman’s shop today near my house. I’ve never been in before, but I saw through the door that makes a certain item out of leather. He didn’t have exactly what I wanted, but after I described he said he certainly could make one. He inquired as to where I am from, and I told him I was from the US. He then asked me what I would pay for such an item in there. Dodging the question, I told him how much I wanted to pay here. It’s a fair price here, but it’s certainly much cheaper than in the States. 

In response, he proceeded to lecture me as to he knew it was worth much more in the US and thus I should pay him that price. Now, if I had offered him an unreasonably low price, I wouldn’t have thought twice about this lecture. However, the price I offered was a bit more than I had been told a Moroccan would pay. Since he was offering to make it specifically for me, an increase in price is obviously logical. 

After bidding him goodbye, I started wrestling with the argument he presented. In truth, the item in question would undoubtably cost roughly three times the price I offered in any store in the US. However, simply because I am American, am I obliged to pay American prices anywhere in the world? Surely not, but I don’t think I can blame the man for arguing thus. His shop is off the tourist track, and really more of a workshop than a shop. Within his shop, I would venture to guess that his transactions with tourists are rather limited. However, he simply stated outright what many other store keepers had been factoring into their prices. 

Among the Fulbrighters here, several of us have been experiencing a weird feeling that comes from living somewhere in between tourist and permanent resident. After all, I’m technically in Fez to study language exclusively, and my “real” research begins come January in Tangier. Even so, I don’t want to pay tourist prices for my shopping, whether it is Christmas shopping or grocery shopping. If a tourist buys something from a bazaar here, though, and pays double the “Moroccan price,” but leaves the store and the city happy, does it matter? If they never know any different, but they are happy with their souvenir that is handmade (or not) and still cheaper than in the US, who am I to criticize these shop owners for inflating their prices? 

I don’t have an easy answer to this question, but as I continue my Christmas shopping this week it will certainly be in the back of my mind.