Haggling in your second language

<Photo of a pet chipmunk at a souk in the Medina of Marrakesh>
I recently came back from a week in Morocco, where I was able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the cities. French is the second language in Morocco — a country where the locals are comfortable speaking many different languages until they hit upon one that the tourist also speaks. Luckily for me, it’s also my second language, and communicating was much easier thanks to knowing some French.

<Photo of donkey standing by a 'no standing' sign>I was able to establish that the chipmunk pictured above is friendly and the owner was happy for us to have a cuddle. I could laugh at this sign behind the donkey transport that says “Stationment interdit ici” (“No Standing”). Bad news for the donkey.

My moment of glory came when helping one of our group haggle in French. The guy we were haggling with could speak some English, but I haggled in French with him, then spoke to my friend in English. He heard me telling her it was too expensive and her saying we should go somewhere else. We continued to haggle in French, and he came down in price enough for my friend to be happy and she bought the gift.

Sadly, that moment of glory turned into stupidity pretty quickly. Shocked and pleased that my haggling tactics had worked, I went to work on haggling for something ridiculous — nougat. “How much per kilo?” I asked in French. The boy I asked had rushed over from his own shop opposite so I didn’t have to wait for the shop owner to return. He told me the price in French. The seconds it took me to translate the price felt like minutes and, still trying to figure out how much it would cost per hundred grams, I panicked and said it was too expensive. He shrugged and said that’s the price. I said not to worry then, and walked away.

The problem was that I really wanted that nougat. It was late and there were no other nougat sellers around. I was leaving the next day. I had to get that nougat. My friend was confused about why I’d walked away, and I was too. I had taken haggling to the ridiculous extreme and I regretted it.

A moment later, with a sheepish expression plastered across my face, I returned to the boy and asked for my chunk of nougat. I felt so embarrassed, in fact, that I didn’t want to have to stand around any longer than required. The result? The smallest piece of nougat ever purchased. Rather than regaining any respect for buying the nougat, I merely made things worse by accepting such a small amount.

I wouldn’t have made such a hash of things in English, proving once again that just when you think you’ve got a grip on a second language, it comes back and smacks you in the nougat hole. Tant pis.

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About

I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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4 comments on “Haggling in your second language
  1. Lesley says:

    What on earth was the chipmonk sniffing?

  2. Wendy says:

    Lesley, that’s a very good question. I’ve forgotten exactly what it was, but it was outside a pharmacy souk, with lots of big glass bottles inside and this stuff outside. I think it was argon oil-based.

  3. Ron Rundle says:

    Wendy, I commend you on your haggling. In Marrakech last year, if we saw something we liked, and the price was OK, deal done. Like you, it takes me too long to convert what they said into English. The only haggling in French was with the taxi drivers. And that ended badly one hot afternoon when the haggled driver dropped us back at the entrance to the medina nowhere near our riad. After walking the streets for half an hour being harassed and hassled, we jumped in another taxi to get us home. So, the taxi fare ended up costing twice as much anyway!

  4. Wendy says:

    Thanks Ron. And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who failed on the haggling front! I can’t wait to go back there with French people so they can do the haggling instead. :)

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