Picture your first day in Marrakesh: You stroll through Jamaa El-Fnaa, try a fresh glass of orange juice, snack on a few figs and weave your way into the medina. As you walk past vendors selling spices, carpets, lanterns and fresh fruit, you stumble upon the stall of an elderly shoemaker. You immediately spot the perfect pair and enquire after the price. You are, of course, quoted an extravagantly inflated number, and that’s when you realize—as your stomach drops and your chest tightens—that you’re going to have to bargain for your prize.
One of the first challenges visitors traveling to Morocco encounter is the act of bargaining. While many think they are being preyed upon by greedy merchants, the truth is that bargaining is simply the name of the game in Morocco, and Moroccans learn early on how to navigate this prickly social minefield. Visitors, however, are at a distinct disadvantage. Knowing what to expect and a few tricks will go a long way toward easing your transition to the art of the haggle.
So, how do you come away with the perfect pair of slippers or that fantastic leather satchel?
First, know that the first price you hear is almost certainly going to be far steeper than you should even think of paying. When you make a counter-offer, don’t go for your target price right away. Instead, start low. You and the merchant will work back and forth, hopefully ending in your target zone. Be prepared, though, to put in the time.
Secondly, don’t be fazed by the theatrics your seller is almost certainly going to pull. Many attempt to sway visitors with guilt or faux-anger. Be polite, but don’t worry that you have truly offended your opponent. It’s all a part of the game.
That said, again, be polite. You are welcome (and required) to be firm, but never let that get in the way of good manners. Whether or not you can reach an agreement, a poor impression will do much more harm than any amount of money you spend can make up for.
Finally, be prepared to walk away. When you really want a certain piece, this can be difficult, but without the threat of losing the sale, the merchant will probably never drop the price. If things truly seem to have reached an impasse, walk away. Nine times out of ten, the vendor will follow after you, agreeing to a final price reduction after they see they might lose your business.
But how do you know what price to aim for? One way to know is to poke around some of the tourist shops or galleries. While the prices are a bit high, you’ll get an idea what sort of ballpark figure to shoot for. Another strategy is to practice bargaining with sellers whose goods you might not really want. If you’re set on a scarf, try haggling for a few with another merchant first. You’ll gain confidence, and you’ll learn just how flexible sellers can be with different items. You can also ask staff at your hotel or hostel what they would consider a fair price.
Also, don’t take things too personally. If you realize that you can either pay a few extra dirhams or walk away, why not simply pay? Yes, a local might be granted a slightly lower price, but you are not a local. You and your vendor both know that you can afford a markup that translates to perhaps a few cents. This is not to say you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of, but when it comes down to a few extra dirhams, show some grace. You’ll walk away happy and so will the merchant.
Finally, enjoy yourself! Revel in the game and play your role, and you’ll likely emerge with your prize. And even if you don’t, you’ll be sharing in an essential piece of Moroccan culture, one that many visitors often miss. Good luck, and happy hunting!
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by arieldiaco.