“In Morocco, my friend, nothing has fixed price…”
Time after time, this was the sentence repeated endlessly in the souk by every stall owner, street vendor, henna artist or anyone ready to make a buck off an unknowing tourist. Playing the I-don’t-speak-your-language card will not work as they will repeat it in French, Spanish and any other language they have hidden in their arsenal of salesmanship.
Now, I warn you, souks are not for the faint of heart or for those who part easily with their money. These guys are masters at making you buy things you don’t need but realise you can’t live without after a couple of minutes with them. I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting quite a few souks in the Emirates, Oman, Syria, Libya and Turkey, but only Marrakesh’s souks compare to Istanbul’s in terms of sheer persistence with sales.
On a side note, a university professor once told me that the first time you go to Kapalıçarşı (Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar) you should do so without any money as they will find a way for you to part with it.
I can safely say the same with Marrakesh, if you are a slightly weak person when it comes to the how-can-I-feed-my-children-if-accept-your-price negotiations and usually end up settling for the price they tell me. Fortunately I had Raquel, who from hence forth will take on all negotiation responsibilities in our relationship!
Raquel was so good at negotiating with the salesmen that all of them would ask her “You Berber?” (Apparently Berbers don’t like parting with their hard earned money easily). However, Raquel was phenomenal. They would start by addressing me, but then soon realised that Raquel was the negotiator in the relationship and would deal directly with her and occasionally throw a hopeful glance at me in the hope that I would interject and accept their price.
After one particular tough negotiation over a Moroccan teapot, the salesman looked at me and told me in Spanish “Amigo, mucha suerte! Su mujer es Berber!” with translation being “My friend, good luck! You´re wife is Berber” while showing a clenched fist (indicating being tight with money). I like his assumption of “Good luck dude as this one won’t let you spend any money!!!”.
So for those of you who want some tips on negotiating in Marrakesh, I give you a typical exchange between Raquel and salesman (keep in mind most of these negotiations were in Spanish):
Raquel : How much is this?
Salesman : 200 Dirham.
Raquel : What?! No that’s too much! (Include a look pure shock and shake head)
Salesman : Okay. How much do you want to pay for this?
Raquel : 70 Dirham. That’s my only offer!
Salesman : 70 Dirham? How am I supposed to live with this offer?!?! (Included look of indignation)
Raquel : 70 Dirham. That’s my final offer!
Salesman : Okay, Okay… 70 is too low and 200 is too high… I give you for 140!
Raquel : No! That’s too much! I’ll give you 80!
Salesman : Madam… come on… You’re killing me! 120 is my last offer!
Raquel : No. I’ll give you 90 and that’s my final offer!
Salesman : 110?
Raquel : Okay. Thank you, I’ll look somewhere else! (Pretend to leave store)
Salesman : Madam Madam! Wait, how about 100?
Raquel : No. (Head toward the ’door’)
Salesman : You’re Berber, no? Okay! 95 and it’s settled!
Raquel : Deal.
Salesman : (looks at me) Good luck mister!
This worked every time and the few times the salesman didn’t budge, we simply left and went to another stall where we got it for the price we asked for. In one stall, Raquel even got a ‘free’ gift from the salesman (which I’m sure was covered by our purchase).
There was one thing that surprised me about the souks in Marrakesh: the age of some of the sellers. Some were only about eleven or twelve years old and already spoke Spanish, French and English and negotiated like adults.
The best thing about the souks? I never once felt really forced to buy anything. I say this because many of the reviews I read created this image and place where if you didn’t buy anything you would be stoned or something of the like.