The honeycomb of intricately-connected alleyways housing the souks, or street markets in Marrakesh, are rightly famous, and we Westerners have something of a love-hate relationship with them. We love to visit them, gaze and listen, but when that fake-friendly voice recognises a possible sale, greets you, and a response is required, how do you haggle? You don’t want to be ripped off or lose face, but it’s his (and it will be a he) job to do the former, and you’ll feel like you’ve done the latter.
So here are a few do’s and don’t’s when haggling at the amazing souks in Marrakesh: Remember haggling is a social, not purely commercial interaction. Always be polite and good-humoured, and if you’re serious about buying something, accept the mint tea you’re offered, and enjoy the stories you will be told. Smile and enjoy. You’re in no hurry. It could take time, but you’re on holiday, and trying to embrace that local thing outside the Hotel.
Don’t begin the bargaining process unless you’re actually serious about buying the item. Just smile and move on. Start out hesitant. Hmmm… You’re not sure if you need that iguana skin. Make him work for his money, while remaining polite. Show you’re in love with something, and you lose your bargaining power.
The price. Now it gets serious. The rule of thumb is to offer between a third and a half of what he initially quotes, and go from there. And be prepared for the laughter which will accompany the first price you offer. It’s not a problem or a put-down; it’s a process. You’re not in M&S here.
Stick to your guns. Good bargainers will be prepared to walk away from any purchase – but you have to be serious about this. If the salesman wants to sell it to you, he’ll come and find you, even if you’re halfway across the souk.
If you really can’t or don’t want to pay the price offered, decline politely and walk away. You may be followed, but probably not. Remember that what you’re haggling over may be just a few euros, and you may just prefer to avoid the hassle and pay the price asked. That’s OK.
If you want to buy art and craft items, don’t tell your taxi driver. Chances are he will take you to a location where he gets a hefty kickback for having dropped you there – and your final price will be inflated as a result.
There’s no such thing as the ‘right price’. If you’re happy with your purchase, then you’ve paid the right price. Don’t feel you’ve gone way over the odds. And never feel bad about paying too little for something. The guy wouldn’t have sold it to you if he wasn’t making a profit. And now you’ve got that beautiful leather bag you’ve always wanted – at a price you’re probably both happy with.
Tim, the author, loves to visit Marrakesh – and the souks in particular.