Morocco: Things You’ll Hear in a Souk

I knew I would have to haggle in Moroccan souks, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for the experience. I don’t play games when I souvenir-shop, and neither do the salesmen.

Every city, souk, and shop is different and so is each shopping experience. I was a frightened and weak negotiator at first, but after shopping in four cities, I have a better grasp on what to expect and how to handle the scripted lines.  If you want to prepare yourself to hunt for the perfect souvenir in Morocco, or if you’re just curious, here are my favorite amusing words and tactics of Moroccan merchants:

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Most shops, like this soap store, are like organized chaos

“It’s cashmere / sheep / 5 year-old baby camel”

False Claims

If you ask what a bag or a rug is made of, you’ll get some crazy answers. I know in my heart that the rug I bought is simply made of soft thread, not cashmere. I also know that there’s no way that a salesman could tell that my bag is made from a camel of five years of age, not eight.

Ask, but don’t believe everything you hear. Just go with your gut, pick out something you like, and don’t fret if one salesman tells you the same “cashmere” rug is made of wool from a sheep.

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Souks are narrow streets made of lots of little shops

“This is democratic price”

Loaded Words

*Me, thinking to myself*: Well, goodness gracious! I love democracy, so 10 dirhams it is! You definitely aren’t saying this to me because I look and sound American.

A variation of the democracy card includes, “That’s too low. Give me democratic price” as a response to your attempt to bring the price down. If the difference is one US dollar, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not be obnoxious, but at the same time keep in mind that a salesman will tell you what you need to hear.

“Feel, it’s not made in China” / “If you go to a big shop…”

Assurances

You’ll be assured in lots of ways that the price they’re pushing is fair. They could be telling the truth about it being made right here in Morocco, but don’t let that idea sway you. You can see for yourself if there are tiny stitches sewn in a factory and you can walk down the street for yourself. Ignore the pressure and use the useless talk to buy time.

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Some shops, like this spice shop, are pristine and organized

“Because of this price, pray for me.”

Guilt-Tripping

One man made me feel so bad for a price we agreed upon—a price that was comparable to my friends’—that I started offering to give him more. Maybe my anxious appearance, nervous sweat, broken Arabic, and the shock of my stupidity threw him off enough to not take me up on it.

This happened at the very beginning of the trip when I was scared of offending the sellers and being unfair. Those are still things I think about, but the words they use to remind me don’t bother me so much anymore.

“I give you student/brother/family price”

Special Discounts

No, my friend, that is a tourist price. He’ll call you a student before you get the chance to tell him, and then he’ll promise the price is special just for you. Perhaps it is, but I seriously doubt it.

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When the shops are closed in the morning, everything disappears behind French doors

“She’s a poor student”

The Performance

I believed this the first time I saw it in Fez, but the next time I saw it in Asilah and then in Chefchaouen, I got to sit back and enjoy the show pressure-free, knowing how this rehearsed skit of guild goes down. I’ll spoil it for you:

  • YOUR SALESMAN, to a fellow employee: She’s paying 40 dirham.
  • FELLOW EMPLOYEE: What?! You can’t be serious. There’s no way.
  • YOUR SALESMAN: No, no, she’s a poor student.
  • FELLOW EMPLOYEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Her? Poor? This is crazy.
  • YOUR SALESMAN: I know, just do it for her.
  • FELLOW EMPLOYEE: *grumbles and mutters, possibly in Arabic*

There’s something that just isn’t very convincing about two Moroccan men having an argument in English.

In summary, you can expect lots of persuasive-sounding words and smooth talk, but you don’t have to let it affect your decision and price. You’re trying to buy souvenirs for a fair price and they’re trying to make a living, so the best you can do is work together to reach what feels like an honest price.

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