Navigating the Souks of Morocco
Walking through a souk in Morocco is a blend between sightseeing and shopping. You feel the pressure of time and money, and merchants can be pushy. Salesmen shout at you in every language, the smells of raw meat waft through the air, and the sun still beats down on you even in the narrowest alley. It’s difficult to walk in a straight path, let alone make clear-headed judgments. I’ve gathered my best advice for making your way through the souks of Morocco.
Know What You Want
It may seem fun to wander the souks without a care, but it’s a lot less painful on the wallet to go in with one or two things in mind for each trip. I recommend doing some research on how much something should cost online before you buy. This can give you some ideas for how to measure quality or give you an idea of your price range. By doing research beforehand, you might find that a sturdy lantern or a pair of baboushes should cost about 100 dirham, a leather purse might be around 200, and a rug would be about 1000. The conversion to American dollars hangs around 9-10 MAD for every USD, so spend wisely, but know that things are quite a bit more reasonable here.
Barter Safe, Not Sorry
Once you find something that you want to buy, pick the price you want to pay for it. This is the price that you’re happiest with and if the souk owner is too, then it is a fair price. The goal is not to get the lowest possible price, but to reach a number where both parties are happy. The first number that he suggests will be far too high so you should respond with a number that is about a quarter less than you are willing to pay. You need room to wiggle, but you don’t want to be offensive. Barter carefully, appear to be slightly disinterested or very unsure, and point out all the reasons you shouldn’t buy it. Once you hit your target number, say that’s it, and don’t worry since–
No matter how unique something appears at first glance, there will be something just like it. It will be in a booth around the corner, and on the other side of the city, and in another city. It even helps to scope out several cities before settling on the exact item you want. That way you can say to someone in Rabat “In Meknes or Fez, I would only pay half of this”.
If they’re trying to persuade you to pay more than you’re comfortable, walk away. Sometimes sellers concede at this point, and give you your price, but don’t rely on that. Be willing to walk away from any deal at any time, if its not the price or item that you want. If you don’t want to pay it and you know you can find it somewhere else, it isn’t worth it. Additionally, once you have agreed on a price, do not walk away. You also cannot return the items; although, one of my friends figured out that her pottery was broken immediately after buying it and was able to make an exchange.
Know the Lines
Take a look at Brantley’s post here. She walks through a bunch of the cliché sayings and trademark lines that salesmen throw out when they’re desperate. Think of it as a performance rather than a set of lines that you need to believe.
In American stores, it’s easy to walk in and find things in your price range to buy and then you decide between them without outside pressure. In Morocco, you have to find something you are willing to buy and then choose its value. You have to change your mindset before shopping but it’s worth it when you find the perfect gifts for your family and friends.