Haggling is something of a national sport in Morocco, and we know it, but most English people, and most Western Europeans, get terribly flustered when the price tag is missing. We are used to looking around the shops, seeing what’s there and at what price and be pretty much left alone by shop keepers, until we are ready to buy or ask a question about a product. Haggling is not in our blood.
How to embrace the maze of Marrakesh’s street markets
If you are planning to go on one of our single parent holidays in Marrakesh, you might want to learn to haggle or you will be perceived as rude, or worse, be ripped off. The honeycomb of intricately-connected alleyways housing Marrakesh’s famous souks, or street markets, are rightly famous, and we Westerners love to visit them, if only to gaze at the colours, take in the exotic fragrances, and admire the craftsmanship. Yet when the stall sellers recognise a possible sale, greet you, and a response is required, you need to know how to react. So, here are some tips that might help you master the art of haggling in Marrakesh.
1. If you just want to browse
If you are not sure about buying and just want to browse, you are free to do so. The seller will feel flattered. He may try to engage you in conversation and start showing you his products, feel free to admire them but smile and move on in good time. As soon as you ask what the price of an item is, the bargaining process begins, as far as the seller is concerned. So, unless you’re actually serious about buying the item, don’t engage in conversation, and definitely don’t ask for the price!
2. How to begin the haggle
Start out hesitant. Hmmm… You’re not sure if you need that tea pot. Make him work for his money, while remaining polite. Show you’re in love with something, and you lose your bargaining power.
Ask the seller to name their price first. They will, no doubt, resist and ask what you are prepared to pay instead. Start low (very low), or insist on finding out their asking price first. Now it gets serious. The rule of thumb is to offer between a third of what the souk seller initially quotes, and go from there. And be prepared for the laughter or feigned outrage, which will accompany the first price you offer. It’s not a problem or a put-down; it’s a process. You’re in Marrakesh, not in M&S.
3. The art of haggling
Hesitate, act, and stick to your guns, and be polite and respectful at all times. 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 or not for long. 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.
4. The right price
There’s no such thing as the ‘right price’. Items don’t come with a price tag and are sold at the price buyers are prepared to pay. If you’re happy with your purchase, then you’ve paid the right price. Don’t feel you have gone way over the odds, or get annoyed if you find a similar item in the mall later. The extra euro you paid doesn’t hurt you, but may help feed a family. 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 you’ve got the intricately designed lantern you wanted – at a price you’re probably both happy with.
5. Always be polite and smile
There are a few do’s and don’t’s when haggling in the famous souks in Marrakesh. One of them is to remember that haggling is a social, not purely commercial, interaction. Always be polite and good-humoured, and if you’re serious about buying something of value, 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 in Marrakesh, so try to embrace the local custom!
6. Navigating the souks with a tour guide
If this is your first time in Morocco and you are not travelling in a group, but on your own and feel a little unsure about how to navigate the maze of the souks, ask your hotel for a guide. He will safely guide you around the Medina for a reasonable price and tell you lots of historical facts and titbits that you do not find in your pocket guide. A local tour guide can also make the experience more personal and exciting, as he will show you how items are made, invite you for mint tea, or obtain little gifts from the sellers he knows. It will also prevent unwanted attention from sellers.
7. Commission is a custom
If you know what you want to buy, don’t tell your guide. He will, no doubt, know the best location – the shop or stall of his uncle or second cousin, and he will take you to the stalls where he gets a hefty kickback for having taken you there – and your final price will be inflated as a result. There is nothing wrong with that, it is part of his income, and what everyone does in Marrakesh. But if you don’t want to pay over the odds, stay quiet and find your own vendor. Your guide will wait in the background, but he will not get involved in any haggling.
After a day or two at the souks, you will find that haggling in Marrakesh is actually a painless and charming process. In fact, if you can get the sellers to laugh, you are half way there to getting the item you wanted, at a price you were happy to pay. So, enjoy and don’t get stressed out when sellers are persistent or even follow you. It’s all part of the process of haggling in Marrakesh.
Single Parents on Holiday is the only tour operator in the UK offering fully-organised single parent holidays for single mums and dads and their children. We love Morocco and absolutely adore Marrakesh, and we simply can’t wait to return !