Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase I suppose I will have to revise my earlier judgment and say that Morocco was probably the best representation of them all.
This is in part due to the fact that the Morocco Pavilion was the only one in which the country’s government aided in the construction and they did this so that they could retain some measure of Islamist control over the design of the mosaics and to ensure that everything was as authentic as possible in the representation of the Muslim faith.
The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”
Well, one thing that I can confirm is that they have certainly got the shopping bit completely right because Disneyland and the Souks of Marrakech certainly have a lot in common when it comes to trying to part visitors from their money as I found out when taking a guided tour of the Fez souk:
Disney (1992) and the Real Thing (2011):
The guide, Hussein, took us first to a carpet shop where the owner gave a brief introduction to carpet making in Morocco and provided with a cup of mint tea and then the sales pitch began and the carpets started to come out as they were theatrically thrown down onto the floor accompanied by a bit of explanation about history, designs and methods of manufacture.
Soon there was a carpet barricade blocking our exit and I began to worry about how we might get away from here without buying a floor covering that we didn’t want and still the pile just kept getting higher and higher. Eventually it only seemed fair to be honest with him and tell him quite firmly that we didn’t need a new carpet, Kim told him that we had bought a new one from John Lewis only a couple of months previously but being unfamiliar with UK department stores this information was meaningless to him, we had no intention of buying one today here in Fez and we didn’t really want the sales demonstration in the first place.
We finally moved on without any wallet damage but the relief from the hard sell routine didn’t last long because as we walked through the dusty back alleys Hussein suddenly declared that he knew a short cut and knocked on a wooden door with flaking blue paint and rusty red hinges and as it creaked open and we were invited inside it was obvious that this was not a sudden short cut recollection at all and that we were inside another shop and I was beginning to detect a pattern here.
This time it was an antique and jewellery shop and the owner offered us mint tea and said that he would be offended if we said no and invited us to look around the shop while the kettle boiled. I’d had enough tea already so wasn’t looking forward to any more but luckily Micky came to the rescue and after a bit of bartering bought some silver bracelets and after the deal was done we were allowed to leave and as the kettle whistled to an empty shop everyone seemed relieved to forget about the tea.
There was no attempt by Hussein to disguise the true purpose of our tour now as he rushed us past things that might have been interesting to see with indecent haste because there were no shops and presumably no commission to be earned straight into another shop selling embroidered table cloths and napkins which we escaped from quite quickly but only directly into another one selling bedspreads and brightly coloured scarves and handkerchiefs.
Here the owner had a more effective sales technique where he corralled us all into a corner in the back of the shop with no easy escape route and kept banging on and showing samples in the hope that eventually one of us would lose the will to live and get a wallet out and it worked because after a few minutes we felt obliged to buy a couple of inexpensive scarves before elbowing our way towards the door.
Outside there was a saddle makers shop but we didn’t stop and I can only assume that this was because Hussein didn’t have a deal going there because of the fact that not many tourists are in the market for buying leather saddles in Fez on account of the difficulty in getting them home because of the Ryanair personal baggage allowance restrictions.
The first stop after lunch was a spice and argan oil shop. Argan oil is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties but is one of the rarest oils in the world due the small and very specific growing areas because it is produced from the kernels of the argan tree which are only found in Morocco.
Naturally there was a shop attached and after the lesson on argan oil production we were invited to look around and try some samples. Actually it really was rather good but also terribly expensive so once again we apologised for not making a purchase and slipped out and away from the hard sell routine as quickly as we could.
Next it was a tannery and the price to pay for a rooftop view of the famous limestone dye pits was another difficult twenty minutes in a leather shop selling coats, jackets, slippers and bags. I didn’t think we were going to get out of there very easily but again Micky was our saviour when he negotiated the purchase of a belt and we were able to get away. Abdul was waiting for us outside the tannery and he loaded us up into the taxi and we set off for the other end of the souk.
Disney (1992) and the Real Thing (2011):
We could have walked the short distance but this was no use to Hussein who really needed to keep us altogether because there was one last shop to visit. Abdul dropped us off at Fez’s most picturesque entrance, the Blue Gate, Bab Boujloud, blue on one side, the colour of Fez and green on the other, the Muslim colour of peace. We walked a short way into the souk which on account of this being Friday was disappointingly quiet and closing up for the day and then we ended up in a silversmiths shop where there were more invitations to look and buy but I think they sensed that we were all shopped-out by now and not in purchasing mood and so they let us go quite quickly.
Abdul drove us back to the Riad and then it was time to settle up with Hussein. We asked how much and he said there was no set price and we should pay what we thought the tour was worth. This was difficult for us because we had no idea so we pressed him for some clues on what he might expect and we decided on €60 which he seemed to be happy with. We said goodbye and he hurried off presumably back to the shops and the restaurant to pick up his commission on the sales we had been tricked into.
Disney (1992) and the Real Thing (Marrakech 2010):