Day two in Morocco was amazing. After breakfast on our riad rooftop, we had an early start to our day, which included a private tour to Ourika Valley and the Atlas Mountains. My brother and I joked about how many times we said, “Wow!” today. Everything we saw was stunning and completely blew us away. Saying we were delighted with what we saw is an understatement.
The region we went through is home to the Berber people, who are indigenous to Morocco and considered “true Moroccans.” Most others are considered Arabic. Berbers speak a completely different dialect to Arabic. We had an interesting discussion with our driver today about culture and religion that seconded the conversation I had with the two guys who manage our riad: Most Moroccans consider themselves Berbers or Arabs first and foremost. While 97% of the population is muslim, they pride themselves that they have religious freedom and it’s not synonymous with other countries that lack the personal freedoms. Their religion is very much secondary to their culture. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous coming to a “muslim country.” I’ll take accountability for buying into the media hype, but I’ve now come to see with my own eyes how off the portrayals of muslims are to many of us Westerners.
Anyway … on to my day, which unexpectedly included a lot of shopping. As my brother said to his wife today in a phone call to her, “We weren’t actively shopping, but it just happens that you’re always shopping and negotiating in Morocco.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The evidence of how I got totally sucked in …
Bartering 101: Lowball, lowball, lowball! Then practice patience.
First, you need to appreciate that Moroccans LOVE to negotiate. So all you in the “fixed price” mindset, be prepared to be uncomfortable. Just try to remember that your initial offer is always only a starting off point. We eventually realized that initial vendor offers can be a 1,000% mark-up, if not more. Not 100% — 1,000%! I was originally quoted 1,000 dirham (about $100) for three pashminas. I left with all three for about $30. (My brother’s story about a rug he purchased is even more amazing!)
A typical bartering experience (and some “how tos”) in Marrakech:
- Think about the maximum you want to pay for everything you’re looking for before you even head to the market, and tell it to your travel buddy. They’re crucial to keeping you in check.
- Once you find something you want to buy, ask the vendor how much the good costs.
- Look shocked at what the vendor says. This will actually likely be a genuine reaction, anyway.
- Lowball. Like, significantly. Already have this initial price in your head before going up to the vendor. The thought of your offer, especially after the price they quote you, should make you feel uncomfortable, even offensive. Just remember, your lowball is only a starting off point, which is why you start REALLY low…you need to have room to negotiate up to what you want to pay. For the scarves, I started at 150 dirham, knowing 350 was my max. (That’s 10% of his initial offer!)
- He’ll roll his eyes or throw his arms in the air because your offer SUCKS.
- He’ll get into a schpeel about how his product is the best and will compare what you want to terrible incomparable knock-offs.
- He’ll come down in price.
- You way no and stick to your price. Maybe even empathetically look at your travel partner for “agreement.”
- He’ll ask you for your “serious price.”
- You come up a little bit. (I went up to 200 dirham.)
- Repeat steps 5-11 until you’re just below your maxium price. “Just below” is very important.
- Say, “That’s my max price.”
- Repeat step 5.
- Walk away. You MUST do this.
- He’ll come after you or shout, “Wait!”
- He’ll come back with a counter just above.
- Come to your final price.
- Coyly look at your travel partner. You just got a deal!
- Look at the vendor who just sold you a good and see him smirking at his partner — he just got you to overpay for something.
So in those simple steps, you’ll purchase stuff at the souks! At least, that’s how it worked for my brother and me. Yes, you likely overpaid, but what’s important to remember is you also likely got a really good deal when compared to what you’d spend purchasing the same thing at home. Purchasing nuts, olives, and OJ were easier. But everything else…this was what we went through.
Phil: “I’m so glad I had you around to help with this bartering today.”
Me: “Yeah, but my brain is spent. And I no longer have any patience.”
So with that, I’m off to bed.
Tomorrow, we head to Essouaira, which Moroccans refer to as “the beach.” Except, it’s not really “the beach” as we know it. But I don’t anticipate it being anything less than amazing.
More to come on burkas, physical contact, and being a woman over here. (It’s not likely what you’re thinking!)