3.6.14: The Art of Bartering: The Uncomfortable Lowball in Morocco

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 …

We made many stops into our tour. Each stop has a genuine “tour” purpose of checking out a vista, seeing how a rug or argon oil is made, or something that you actually want to know. They start out with “no pressure to buy.” You’re genuinely interested in what they’re telling you, and then the sales pitch begins. Our first stop was to check out vistas of Ourika Valley, where I bought myself a lapiz necklace. We pulled over several times to take in the views beside the road, too. One of my favorite of our stops was a spice co-op, where I picked up some fantastic teas and spices like saffron and cumin. Before lunch, we went on a really fantastic hike with a guide through the mountains to check out the cascades. Most of the drive took place on the edge of the valley, which a river runs through. Beside the river you’ll see endless tables and chairs set up for people to eat at. Often times, you’ll see a very rickety-looking bridge. (For the record, I was continually humming the Indiana Jones theme song for most of the day, mainly because of the bridges. Think about the bridge they go across in Temple of Doom. That’s literally what the bridges were like — to get lunch!) We did make it across one. During lunch we dipped our feet in the ice cold river. One cool thing: Rather than putting sodas on ice, they make these sprinklers and use the cold water from the mountains to sprinkle them and keep them cool. The way the bottles are arranged…it brings a new meaning to “soda fountain.” After lunch, we started to make our way back to Marrakech, but first stopped at a Berber rug shop. There I bought a rug. Yes, a rug. We’re pretty sure our driver makes a commission on everything we bought. He dropped us off in the main square, and we just walked back to our riad to chill for a bit.Then, we headed to the medina to experience it at night. After grabbing some couscous with veggies and some interesting fish, my mission of things to find was simple: A ring to match my necklace, three scarves, and a serving plate. I got the scarves and the serving plate. (Between the tagines and the plates, you’ll see what I mean about them when you get here one day — they’re beautiful.) I also picked up a couple pairs of Ray Bans and some olives, cashews, and almonds. I still want that ring, but if you saw the handbags here, you’ll understand what I mean when I said to my brother that I’m facing a moral dilemma in not buying one. But I can’t justify getting both. In my defense, he got suckered into a few things today, too.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Once you find something you want to buy, ask the vendor how much the good costs.
  3. Look shocked at what the vendor says. This will actually likely be a genuine reaction, anyway.
  4. 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!)
  5. He’ll roll his eyes or throw his arms in the air because your offer SUCKS.
  6. He’ll get into a schpeel about how his product is the best and will compare what you want to terrible incomparable knock-offs.
  7. He’ll come down in price.
  8. You way no and stick to your price. Maybe even empathetically look at your travel partner for “agreement.”
  9. He’ll ask you for your “serious price.”
  10. You come up a little bit. (I went up to 200 dirham.)
  11. Repeat steps 5-11 until you’re just below your maxium price. “Just below” is very important.
  12. Say, “That’s my max price.”
  13. Repeat step 5.
  14. Walk away. You MUST do this.
  15. He’ll come after you or shout, “Wait!”
  16. He’ll come back with a counter just above.
  17. Come to your final price.
  18. Coyly look at your travel partner. You just got a deal!
  19. 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!)

Author: themostinterestingwoman

Travel enthusiast. Dog mom. Tall gurl. Super aunt. Career gal. Fitness junkie. Foodie. Vodka/IPA appreciator. Hella tattooed. Work to live.

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