Shopping in Marrakech is an experience like no other: The billowing silk scarves and hand woven shawls, shiny brass lamps in shimmering gold and silver metals, fragrant mint and exotic spices such as cinnamon and cumin, handmade Berber rugs with geometric designs and silky smooth tadelakt bowls in intense sky blues, ox blood reds and jet blacks. However the experience can be seriously terrifying for the uninitiated travellers arriving fresh off the ryan air and easyjet flights more used to buying rugs from John Lewis and lamps from Bhs!
This guide is based on the knowledge I have gained from adventuring out into the souks over the past five years. I am hoping to help new visitors to enjoy the Marrakech Shopping experience, purchase some exquisite handicrafts from the souks and perhaps even make some new friends at the same time.
I have never been trained in the art of negotiation and have not worked as a ‘buyer’. However, in the process of renovating Riad Papillon -our wonderful newly opened boutique hotel in the centre of Marrakech, I think I have learnt quite a lot about the art and science of ‘haggling’.
In the beginning I learnt the hard way making sometimes costly mistakes. I also managed to upset quite a few stall holders by my clumsy initial attempts at haggling. One stallholder was so upset that I didn’t want to buy his lamps that he called me ‘La Poubelle de la France!’ which means ‘the dustbin of France’ (Some Moroccans are not very keen on the French for historical reasons). I was quite offended by this (as you can imagine) but, caught off my guard, all I could offer as a retort to this was: ‘Mais je ne suis pas francaise!’ which means ‘but Im not french!’ I hasten to add that I do not think I am a dustbin either but, in the heat of the moment, I was not quick witted enough to advise him of that!
Although I would not call myself a ‘haggleguru’ , I do find that I can now haggle with confidence and generally end up with purchases that I truly desire at prices that I am very happy with whilst still preserving the relationship with the seller. I actually enjoy the experience of shopping in the Marrakech souks now and find it exhilarating as well as rewarding.
There are thousands of stallholders-mostly charming and welcoming, a few can be grumpy or plain rude, and some are tricky or dishonest. All, however are master salesmen and are highly motivated to sell to you generally at the highest price possible.
Each of us has his or her own style and so let me just offer some broad haggling guidelines and then let you conduct the negotiation in your own unique style.
1. Firstly, remember to keep your cool and your sense of humour at all times. The soaring temperatures can result in frayed tempers and not speaking the language can make one feel frustrated and confused. Just take your time and remember you are on holiday and this is supposed to be fun!
2. Secondly, remember that Haggling is, in some respects, like taking part in a small play or pantomime. There are certain roles and lines that are predictable and some that are not. It is useful to know how these roles and lines generally work so that you play your part well and even enjoy it.
3. Thirdly, I think it is always important to remember that you are a guest in someone else’s country (even if the stall holder may forget that sometimes!) and to behave politely and respectfully even if the haggling starts to get a bit heated.
4. Although haggling can be viewed as a game or a play it should also be remembered that although you may be haggling to buy something worth a tiny fraction of your monthly income, for the stall holder the negotiation may represent his next meal quite literally. Therefore I advise only to haggle over something that you do actually want to buy not just for the fun of it.
5. Be assertive and clear, not passive and absolutely never aggressive in your interactions. If a salesman starts bringing down dozens of scarves that he thinks you are interested in just because you looked at them and didn’t stop him, then you may well end up feeling embarrassed to refuse them so be clear when you do not want something as well as when you do.