“I will give you a deal because I just want to make you smile. I’ll let you have this authentic, Moroccan [fill in the blank] for [approximately 5x what it’s actually worth]!”
……says literally every person selling anything in the souks of Marrakech.
Morocco is known for their expert artistry and craftsmanship which became evident the more I explored the labyrinth pathways of the souks, losing myself in shops full of treasures, from hanging lanterns to hand-painted tagine cookware, and chunky jewelry in silver and gold. However, the country is also known for their intense tradition of haggling. Instead of there being a fixed price like in stores at the mall, in the souks you’re expected to engage in a cutthroat negotiation to get the lowest price.
Being a typically “polite” Canadian, the idea of playing this game of negotiation gave me performance anxiety, similar to what I feel whenever I’m at karaoke and I think performing Baby Got Back is a good idea. That is, until I won my first haggling war.
Intent on snagging an authentic Moroccan wedding blanket to decorate my room with, I haggled an intimidatingly LARGE Moroccan man down from 2500 dirhams ($333CAD) down to 600 dirhams ($80CAD). My first counter was a fifth of his starting price and I refused to budge above 600 because even though I loved the fringed and sequinned blanket and how it jingled brightly when it moved, we still had a long day and I didn’t relish the idea of lugging a cumbersome blanket all over the city.
Certain that I’d have many other chances to find a similar piece over the course of the rest of the trip, I began to leave the shop when the shop owner hastily accepted to my offer, albeit very angrily. Not even waiting for the blanket to be wrapped, I scurried out of the store with my prize to escape the murderous gaze of the large Moroccan.
I couldn’t believe I had managed to badger a man, who looked like he munched on the bones of children for breakfast, down almost a fifth of his original asking price!
After that experience, haggling had become a high and I realized that it didn’t have to be a source of anxiety, but a local custom to enjoy.
Here’s what you need to know:
What kind of currency should I use?
The official currency used is the Moroccan dirham – not to be mistaken for the United Arab Emirates dirham – but many shops accept euros. I suggest using dirhams because otherwise you lose money with the conversion to euros. Also, bring lots of cash since most shops don’t accept credit cards.
What should my starting offer be?
The initial price usually starts high so I would often counter with one fifth of the initial ask. This seems embarrassingly low but by the end of negotiations they will probably get you up to half the initial asking price anyways.
Should I just get it?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the hectic nature of haggling so have a final figure in mind and stick firm. Even after you tell them your final offer, they’ll ask you another twenty times in the hopes that they’ll wear you down. When in doubt, just say you’re going to think about it a little more and come back. They’ll probably offer the lowest price you’re likely to get as you walk out the door.
But what if I REALLY want the rug/barbouche slippers/lantern/etc?
Worst case scenario is that they’ll refuse to sell it and you wander up the street to a stall with the same merchandise. It makes it easier to haggle knowing that there are many other places you can find the sought after item, maybe even at a lower price.
….take it personally, it’s business!
….take it too seriously
….resort to insults in an effort to get a lower price
….accept mint tea unless you plan to buy
….plan other activities that day…you won’t make it
….buy things that you can get at home
.…have fun chatting with the shop keepers
….enjoy the excessive flattery they use to butter you up
….be polite but firm
….go with a final figure in mind before you start haggling
….go with a wing person to keep you grounded
….know that you can walk away
….remember that what you buy, you’ll have to carry or ship home
Here is a list of 7 Souvenirs You Can’t Leave the Souks of Marrakech Without:
Not only functional but rugs are verifiable pieces of art full of distinctive tribal symbolism and culture. Some are heavy and thick, made with hearty wool to be more practical while others are more lightweight like silk rugs made from agave cacti that are – BONUS – inflammable so if your house burns down, at least the rug will endure.
2/ WEDDING BLANKETS
Known as handira, these blankets are a window into Berber culture. Woven over the course of many hours – even weeks! – in anticipation of the upcoming nuptials by the soon-to-be-bride and her female relatives, theses hand-woven pieces don’t only serve for warmth but to ward off evil and bestow fertility and good fortune on the new couple.
3/ EMBROIDERED STRAW BASKETS
As soon as I saw that I could get a basket with a personalized message (like, for example, your Moroccan alter ego) embroidered with vibrant yarn, complete with festive pom poms, I had to have it! Negotiate a price with one of the ladies manning the stall, give her half then go get a spiced coffee at a café nearby until it’s ready.
4/ BARBOUCHE SHOES
If you walk into one of the tiny stalls, every inch is covered in wall-to-wall shoes and slippers in every colour, sequinned, beaded, laced-up, slip-ons, kitten-heeled….you’ll wish you had more feet. Expect to pay more for the artisan leather ones, like the gorgeous Carrie Bradshawy-Esque beauties that I snagged with intricately patterned beading.
5/ ARGAN OIL
When in Rome, eat pasta. When in Morocco, buy argan oil! The highest quality argan oil originates from the trees that grow in Morocco so make sure to pick some up whether for silky smooth hair or the kind that’s be toasted for flavour for cooking.
Obviously you can buy all the same spices at home but it’s such an experience to examine all the colourful jars lining the walls of an apothecary. The shop owners love to explain what each is used for so settle in with a glass of mint tea to learn!
7/ KILIM PILLOWCASES
The colourful, patterned kilim pillow cases are a more cost-efficient alternative to buying a rug, plus it doesn’t come with the filling so it’s easier to pack in your suitcase! The intricate patterns are not only decorative but act as a narrative art form as the shapes act as woven symbols.
I wanted to buy EVERYTHING! The had gorgeous pottery and elaborate lamps and lanterns, jewelry, pashminas, etc…but there was only so much room in my carry-on suitcase. Like how am I going to bring home a lantern?! You can either bring an extra suitcase or get it shipped home but expect it to cost an arm and a leg.
If you were going to explore the maze-like souks of Marrakech, what would your MUST-HAVE souvenir be?