The Medina in Tunis is the old section of the city where you leave the clean glass high rises, palm lined landscaped streets and enter the medieval narrow walkways. Alive with vibrant colors and the sweet smell of spice vendors, Medina is the Elysian Fields of the bargain shopper.
Preparing for this adventure is more like rehearsing for the stage than readying yourself for a day of souvenir shopping. This is a game; if the rules are followed then all the players will have a good time. Entering the Souk (market) you will see vast displays of authentic carpets, hand crafted Berber jewelry, leather goods, copper pots, olive wood bowls and a plethora of goods that resemble works of art more than everyday household items.
Start out with a slow disinterested stroll, glancing at items with little curiosity. Yes they are beautiful and yes you wish you had more luggage space to get it all home, however a display of excitement to a vendor is like showing fear to a Doberman. If you stand around for a few minutes the vendor will eventually pick up the item you are interested in (they know what you want…they’re psychic that way) and give you a price. Look away at another item and offer exactly half of the quote. This has nothing to do with price, it’s your acceptance that the game is on
Keeping your sense of humor and your best bargaining skills begin the negotiations. Eventually a price will be agreed upon and both parties will be happy. With a friendly goodbye you are free to go to the next vendor and begin again. Be aware that the game is still underway. By carrying an item you are no longer a shopper, you are a buyer. The next vendor will know this and will expect to play.
Keeping with the idea that this is a game do not attempt to cheat or you will look foolish. News travels fast through Medina, faster than you can walk. There is no fun in being blackballed for cheating when you find something you really want. How do you cheat? If you make an offer, even at a price you know you will not get, you have entered into an agreement to buy. A little math will tell you that the price of the item is going to be somewhere between the quoted price and half of that. If you are not willing to pay an amount between those two figures then do not make an offer. Walking away from a negotiation is the equivalent of taking your ball and going home in the middle of a baseball game. Another cheat is to accept the first price. An American equivalent of walking in to a new car dealership and asking the salesmen if he will sell you a car for sticker price, expect the same reaction. With a little nerve and a straight face a shiny brass handcrafted birdcage will bring you years of beauty and a story to share with family and friends.
After a long day of bargain hunting make sure to stop for tea. The green tea with mint is delicious and a refreshing way of life in Tunisia.