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Accenting the East Coast

The Haggle and the Hand

TUNISIA | Wednesday, 13 May 2015 | Views [434] | Comments [8] | Scholarship Entry

Tunisian peddlers, fluent in Arabic and French, are some of the most intelligent people on the planet. They ask me, in English, what language I speak. Being clever, I offer “Sono italiana”; they respond, in Italian, “What part of Italy?” I admit I speak only poco italiano; they smile triumphantly.

They know what to say to get me to buy: “You’re beautiful!” “Your children are smart!” “Set your own price!”

I pick up a pair of pink Converse. Touching is a sure sign you’ll buy.

“You like?” the vendor asks.

“I do.” I smile, a possible mistake. “How much?”

He smiles back. “How much do you want to pay?”

“How much do you want?”

His smile remains. “How much do you want to pay?”

“15,” I reply.

“30,” he counters.

Having been to markets in both Naples and Istanbul, I’ve learned to enjoy the haggle. It’s not unlike performing in a play. I gasp. Put my hand to my chest. “Oh, no!” I roll my eyes and begin to leave.

“How much do you want to pay?” he asks again.

“15,” I repeat.

“25?” he pushes.

“Never mind,” I say. I walk away.

He chases me, places the shoes in my hands. “15,” he assents. I pay the man.

I pass stall after stall, beckoned in many ways.

“Your husband said you would come here next!” My husband is actually behind me.

“Heather!” one calls. I see my son, cowering amongst key chains, pretending he isn’t the one who revealed my name.

I stop when I’m interested, continue when I’m not. I take pictures of the beautiful blue doors of Tunisia, marveling at their cerulean color, a blend of the African sky and the Mediterranean sea.

“You are American?” one man yells.

I nod.

“We are neighbors! I am Canadian!”

I turn to find a dark man, his hair wild and his teeth rotting.

“Half-Canadian,” he blackly smiles.

I laugh.

“Come in,” he pleads.

I shake my head.

“There are many things you will like here!” he proclaims.

I continue walking.

“YOU HATE CANADIANS!” he exclaims.

“Yes. Yes, I do,” I tell him. I laugh loudly, with abandon.

When traveling I look for street art. This market in Tunis has prints, not originals painted and sold by artists in the streets. But the tumbled marble mosaics here are beautiful. I find one featuring a terracotta hand held aloft, fingers together, an eye centered on the palm. Again, I smile.

“You are very beautiful,” the vendor tells me.

“What does this symbol mean?” I ask.

“It is the hand of Fatima. You buy one your first day here to protect you from the evil eye.”

I love such stories.

He wants 10. I pay 5.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship



This trip sounds so familiar. Seems like I always find that my favorite times in a new country comes from finding out how to haggle in the market places and the different ways they draw me in. In Istanbul it was the apple tea, Italy it was the espresso. This piece brings back fond memories.

  Dave May 13, 2015 11:16 AM


I can never make a good decision in these markets. My head just spins off my neck. It's so overwhelming. If only my haggle skills were this good. I would have paid $15. Thanks for the great advice. And, oh, you are so beautiful.

  G Lippert May 13, 2015 11:47 AM


Yet again I get completey caught up in your story telling!! Such a great read! Do more!!!!

  London May 13, 2015 12:32 PM


Vivid story-telling. Felt like being there.

  C. Kelley May 13, 2015 10:43 PM


Wonderful storytelling. I felt I was there with you!

  Oki Booklady May 13, 2015 11:56 PM


The visuals are on point!! Such conviction in your words!!

  sabra May 14, 2015 12:15 AM


I really enjoyed reading about this adventure! Nicely written!!

  EP May 14, 2015 8:43 AM


I really like the end with the "I love such stories." It ties everything together! And the dialogue really does make me feel like I'm there watching you haggle (because of course I'm not good at haggling myself!)

  Audrey May 15, 2015 5:11 AM

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