Africa,  Morocco

Souks, the Art of Bargaining

Michael grabs my arm to push me to the side. I turn around and the motorbike speeds so close to us, I could actually smell the sweat of the driver.

The streets in the Souks couldn’t be any smaller and despite some signs forbidding the traffic of motorbikes and cyclists, the rule doesn’t seem to apply to Moroccans. I think if cars could fit, they would drive short cuts through the souks too. You even find donkeys walking these alleyways, with or without carriages, stocked up as high as it is possible to balance.

Medina's Souk

Lorena, our host in the first Riad, said she has been  knocked down a few times on these streets. Gotta watch out!

The souks are divided in areas, so you have the fruit&vegetables market, the leather market, the jewellery market… but in some streets you find a bit of everything you can possibly imagine and things you wouldn’t imagine existed at all.

If you spend time looking at the things, be prepared to be persuaded to buy and if you don’t want to buy anything don’t linger around for too long, the longer you spend in a shop or a stall, the more hassle you will get. Sometimes, even just for looking while walking down the road, they will invite you in. But if you buy anything, you will make them happy.

Medina's Souk

I wanted to buy a leather backpack with some carpet on it. Morocco produces a lot of these 2 materials and I thought combining them together in a cute rucksack would be a nice present to take home.

Medina's SoukI had seen a few rucksacks hanging off on the walls of the shops and I already knew what sort of bag I wanted. I wanted to get a good deal but there weren’t any prices written down. So I entered this little shop in the souks. I hadn’t finished exploring the wall with my eyes and the shop keeper came asking which one do I like? I told him I was still looking… He was polite and told me, even if he doesn’t have what I want, he can get it for me. Another look around and they don’t have the one I had in mind, but some similar, so I asked the price. He ignored my question and asked me which one I like. I said “I like this format, but in a different colour, but how much is it?” He grabbed the bag and was leaving the stall, but I just wanted to know the price. He was persistent in taking the bag away to change the colour of the leather so I could buy it. “But you haven’t told me the price”, I said! He replied “it’s okay, I can get it for you”. Bear in mind we were mixing my little french with his little english. So I said: “I don’t want the bag, if I don’t know the price”. He finally told me it was 500Dirhams, which is like 50€, 45£. Too expensive I said. He then persisted in taking the bag away if I would wait. I said no thank you, and left the shop. He came shouting something behind us… but we just kept walking.

The one!
The one!

So stressfull! But I wasn’t going to give up. If we are going to do it their way I must be mentally prepared for haggle the price down.

So further down the street I saw the one! I entered the shop and asked how much. He said 400Dirhams. This time I felt good about bargaining: I put my poker face and I let out a 200Dh, he said he couldn’t do less then 400, I told him that I wouldn’t give more then 200-250 for it. So in the end we both agreed on 250Dh. I love it!

Medina Streets

Bargaining is an art! Some of the sellers will pretend they are personally offended by the price you give, hoping to make you feel guilty and so raise your offer. But they start at a much higher value to challenge you, or to get money out of you. So they pretend to consider your offer, you pretend to consider theirs. If you aren’t happy, you make the move to leave and they usually agree on something in between or you walk away without it. One once asked me: “Seriously, what’s your real price?”. For this beautiful glassy plate. He asked 200Dh, I said 60Dh. The deal closed at the consensual 100Dh.

 Jemaa el-Fna

Unfortunately we didn’t go to the tannery, where animal skin is turned into leather. Lorena advised us not to go alone, or it would be hard to get out. There are loads of Moroccans trying to “keep you there”, telling you all about it. They are nice to you until they start asking for money for taking up their time.

Leather Marrakech
Leather drying in the sun

If you want to know more about the tanneries, here is a website about the treatment of the skins into leather, a clear and explicit explanation:  BBC.CO.UK-TANNERIES

And a very good article about the Art of Bargaining, by Amy Baker.


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