Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Morocco 2, Paying the dumb tax

posted 10/28/08

One of the worst feelings a traveler can have is figuring out that you paid too much. I am talking about the tourist tax, of course -- the extra a foreigner pays because he 1) doesn't know how to bargain, 2) doesn't want to bargain because hello it is considered rude in our culture, 3) doesn't know what he should be paying and 4) doesn't speak the language so can't bargain even if he wants to.

We paid 300 dirhams, or about $35 for lunch yesterday. That doesn't sound like a lot (well, I think it's a lot, but I'm a real cheapskate), but consider we got two first-class train tickets for a 70-mile trip for $20 and that you can get a big schwarma (like a gyro) with lots of meat for $3. It was the place in Essaouira where you pick your own fish and they cook it for you right there. We had even looked at the sign in front of the fish stands explaining that the prices were fixed and here's what you should pay per kilo of product, but once we had committed to a fish stand (there are about a dozen) and picked our fish, it didn't occur to us to ask the weight of the sardines, langostine and calamari we had chosen and do the math ourselves. It wasn't until after we left and saw the sign again that we realized that we had paid way too much -- that our lunch should have cost about $6.

When I was in South America, I became a master of bargaining, telling taxi drivers that I was foreign, not stupid, and that I wasn't going to pay the gringo price. Here, I am 13 years out of practice, I don't speak French well, and I am dealing with Moroccan traders, who are master negotiators. This white chick from the Midwest doesn't stand a chance against thousands of years of camel traders.

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