Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Handsy Proprietors

The Medina in Tunis is just like any other touristy shopping place in that it's full of local cheap tchotchkes that if you were to gift to someone would end up in the Goodwill pile faster than that polyester jumpsuit that's been sitting in the closet for decades. Like napkin holders with "Tunisia" painted on it. At least the jumpsuit has some comedic value.

But it is unlike most touristy shopping places in the world in that it is a crazy maze of century old alleyways. You feel like your in an Indian Jones movie and a Wal-mart all at the same time. There's people everywhere and merchandise filling every available space and it's colors and sounds and dozens of different languages being spoken. It's pretty cool. My new friend Denny (she's in my wee teeny tiny church unit. There are 10 of us - six adults and 4 kids - and we meet in the living room. It is awesome.) volunteered to come with me so we took the metro in (it just goes from the sea to downtown and back. Very small and rickety and old timey but it gets the job done.) and then we walk about a mile down the main avenue in Tunis, made a pit stop at this lovely old cathedral then made our way into the Medina.

(That's a bad picture, but just be grateful I remembered to pull my camera out. I had a bit of sensory overload)

The shopkeepers all sit outside their stores and try to lure you in. They call out hello in several different languages and one guy even started calling out English sounding names, "Hey, Elizabeth. Hello Sarah!" They will all tell you how beautiful your eyes are. It must work because every shop keeper said it, normally as I was walking away from a sale.

Speaking of which, I LOVE to bargain. Oh, it's fun. I love giving outrageously low offers and then the shopkeepers would roll their eyes and sigh and look slightly offended only to call out another offer as I'm walking out the door. I didn't buy anything because it's just my first week and I wanted to get a feel for what things are going for but it was great practice. Here's what I've learned about Tunisian shopkeepers - they're handsy. Oh, they love to touch you. They'll put their arm around you and grab your hand and kiss it and gently shove you in the direction of their shop and say, "You're eyes are beautiful. I love America! For America I give a special price. Everyone else - full price. But America, I give it away!" It took a little bit of time to get used to it and to work out a few evasive tactics but I managed. I could have used my nunchucks on a few of them and been completely justified.


Laura said...

That looks like such an awesome place. It reminds me of dozens of challenges on Amazing Rache where the teams have to make their way through the crazy mazes of shops to find a specific scarf or pot or something. Thank you for bringing your camera...and we don't care if the pictures a tiny bit blurry!!

Rach said...

I am such a sucker for open air markets. I end up leving with loads of cheap crap. Like pirated CDs and tacky scarves and cheap shiny purses. And the cheap crap is different in every country, so enjoy buying it while you're there! I love bargaining, too. Why can't we do that at the mall? It would make shopping so much more fun!

Valerie said...

I'm often proud to be an American, or whatever, but, never so much as when we're talking about personal space. I love that Americans (generally) respect a large circumference of personal space. Whenever I get the idea that I want to live abroad, I just think of how close people will stand to me, and (shudder), I pretty much stop thinking about it.

Also, you're joking, right? You've read Wuthering Heights before, of course.

Stephanie said...

I love to bargain shop, too. It's why I love garage sales and flea markets. And I agree - part of the fun is haggling them to a really low price point and then walking away. So much fun.

The Katzbox said...

Oh...I am coveting, BIG TIME!

That said, I bought "The Hunger Games" today...will I be forever changed?


Sarah Alexander said...

RACHEL! YOU'RE IN TUNISIA!!! WOWOWOWOW! I am so excited for you!