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Friday, 15 March 2013

Nabeul market in Tunisia - a different way to shop and barter in foreign countries

Hammamet Market
Nabeul market, a busy street

Travel guides mention it, and when you go to Nabeul market you realise how expensive it is & how rude the locals are if they don’t get their way. Nabeul market is much larger than the one in Hammamet  – which I visited only a day before. This also had given me an idea of prices and, together with the one I had seen in a local supermarket just outside my hotel, I felt I was armed with knowledge and could easily compare prices and quality. 

Buying and bartering at a Tunisian market is not as fun as doing it at a Moroccan one. Tunisians seemed very rude and if you manage to agree a price, they became grumpy if they felt they hadn’t charged you way over the odds. I drive prices down as much as possible, especially if I have seen it before at a lower price. I also know that they won’t sell if it is not convenient to them and not making a profit. I have a budget and stay within it. 

Once the sale is done, I expect the other side to be pleased and not to hold a grudge.  They had a choice and I did not force them to sell to me, and I do not want them to try to make me feel guilty!   Having been several times before in Morocco and Turkey, I know that if they sell they make a profit, so cheer up Nabeulians! 

Nevertheless even after having encountered some very rude and begrudging people, I still managed to meet great lovely ones. In particular at Nabeul market I met again an old man and his son (?) whom I had seen the day before at the Hammamet market and I had purchased a few items from him.

with Bourawi
With Bourawi, market seller
I liked his jovial and welcoming (if a bit too overwhelming) approach. It certainly made a stark contrast with the other local stall holders. This man (Bourawi) had developed an immediate crush for me (!) - he wanted to come back to England with me which I drew a line to (it is very useful in this cases to have a story involving ‘loving husband or partner’ that is working hard at home and waiting for you to get back or joining you in a day or two, if you do not happen to have the ‘real McCoy’!) - anyway, Bourawi was the first to see me in Nabeul street market that Friday morning, while I was walking around hot and confused by the number of people.

Above the noise and hassling a friendly, welcoming voice rose and shouted: ‘Hallo my friend!!’ and I looked around to see a smiling face with open arms! 
You cannot believe how nice it was - after having been shoved and pushed by greedy sellers and harassed by pushy ones - to see a familiar face. He got me out of the crowd, offered a cool drink from a nearby stall seller and a seat!   Well, I supposed I felt like royalty! :-)
And you know, I bought a lot of lovely bits from him again, much more than the day before, as I had regretted not buying more of certain bracelets… It turned out my host was from Nabeul and had more of the stock I wanted and in different colours.
Berber Bracelet with semi-precious stones
I also bought two beautiful amber necklaces. Gorgeous. Did you know there is a way to test that amber is real amber?  With Amber, you stroke it hard against a cloth so it warms up and when you smell it, it has a nice aroma, kind of resin.

Or if you are buying camel bone, the real camel bone/hoof and not just plastic (as sometimes it looks and it is) can be tested by using a flame to barely touch the hoof/bone. It won't smell as nicely as amber, it will have a smell similar to the one of when you burn hair.
The way to usually do business in these countries is to sit and chat and sip a drink and bargain, and chat some more and then pick something else to add to the bargaining and you go on for a while. 
At the end you are happy and so are they. I love it when you find people like these, and hate it when I haven’t got scope to buy things from them, as they are so nice (like in the case of the potterer – see photo below) that you want to support their business.
The choosing, buying, bartering is a process that takes time, however I love it, as you get to know a tiny bit of the other person and culture which is partly what is all about for me.
Nabeul - pottery
At the end of my chatting/shopping/bargaining with my new friend (Bourawi) I was also given a present of a Fatima hand pendant in silver and a very nice chain to go with it - which he asked his son to put on my neck - and a little stuffed key ring camel.

Such graceful and nice people! As I finished with my friend, a few steps away, another  seller from the Hammamet market crowd popped up – the one the day before had been a bit grumpy after the sale– and that day he was a bit more charming. Again I bought two more bracelets from him (some the ones I had really wanted the day before) and managed to get them for a very good price.
Camel bone & Resin Bracelet
I wasn’t so lucky when I went back to a shop, just outside the market, where first thing in the morning I had seen some nice cushion covers and lovely decorated glasses to use as T-lights holders. When I went by in the morning there was a woman setting up the shop, and having asked for the prices, I had decided to buy up a few on my way back – as I did not want to carry them all the way through the market. Unfortunately though, when I went back to the shop around mid-morning, the young son and dozy grandma where there instead and the son was much too greedy and quoted me a much, much higher price than the one quoted in the morning.  I didn’t manage to convince him to see reason and sell them to me at his mom’s price. I had promised myself to go back there the following Friday, early in order to catch the woman while setting up the shop again. However, the following week I also wanted to be in Hammamet and in the end decided I didn’t want to go from pillar to post (Nabeul and Hammamet are at opposite ends from where I was staying) and didn’t fancy rushing around on my last day of holiday. 

I went to the Hammamet Medina instead and, eventually, managed to find a shop I had seen the first day of my holiday while wondering around. Boy what a maze is the Medina. And when asking direction, the ‘clever’ sellers thought they could confuse me and take me to their shops claiming to be the one I wanted… as if!  I had a picture on my mobile with the name on it … ;-)

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