The Art of Haggling
I mentioned that I didn’t buy anything in Fes, but I did enjoy watching the rest of the team engage in the age-old art of haggling. We were very nervous hagglers; particularly in the beginning. Haggling seems very confrontational to those of us used to paying sticker price in Penneys. But shopkeepers LOVE it when you engage in the process. A few good natured smiles and some laughter and you will get to a price you’re both comfortable with… eventually.
The tanneries in Fes were our first foray into the haggling system. With the smell of sun drying skins wafting over us on a scorchingly hot day, backs aching after hours of walking around the confusing alleys, we fanned out to look at the two floors of bags, belts, wallets, jackets and shoes! I accompanied a girl named Knox to look through the jackets. She couldn’t find anything she liked and the shopkeeper got a bit sick of us as she kept refusing to try anything on. Buying and selling in the marketplace always seems like a show-down: me on one side, the shopkeeper on the other, engaged in a price debate (even when the stakes are only GBP5).
I did a lot of shopping with a girl of the same name – Rachel! She was brilliant with the haggling thing.
“How much for this?”
“No. How about 400?”
“400? It’s too low. You see this? Is real leather. What’s your top price? Not 400, not 1000.”
“500 is my top price”
“Also you must give me one smile,” and Rachel flashes a brilliant smile.
“For you because I like your smile,” the shopkeeper hands her a small hand of Fatima Charm. We also got some good deals by going in together to by multiples of things we all wanted. More smiles, some hugs, and everyone is happy. It’s about keeping the whole process friendly. The friendlier, the better the deal you’re going to get… more or less.
As a general rule, you should start by offering 1/2 of the asking price. I’ve read that in Marrakech you could even start at 1/4 or 1/3 the price. It’s unlikely in the big souk of Marrakech that you’ll be invited to sit down to tea, but if you are it’s good manners to accept. Our tour group took tea before they brought out the carpets in Todra Gorge. It’s part of the lovely Moroccan hospitality.
Also, you don’t need to be afraid of walking away. The shopkeeper will probably yell prices down the street at you as you walk away, but you don’t need to accept a price you don’t think is fair. I prefer to only enter the process if I’m genuinely planning on buying the item (walking away is a little too stressful for me). My shopping partner, and I tried to listen in to other people’s haggles and come up with a good idea of price before diving in.
We were also very conscious of going insultingly low. This is their livelihood after all and Morocco is very cheap for someone earning pounds sterling. We ended up paying far too much for our first taxi adventure in Casablanca. We took a three minute cab ride to the Hassan II Mosque and, since our hotel said they’d call us a taxi for 100MAD (which we declined), we handed the driver a 50. His eyes lit up and couldn’t thank us enough. Turned out the ride was worth less than 10MAD. But we made peace with our overpayment fairly quickly.
Ultimately we decided that they probably needed the money more than us. If we were happy with what we bought and comfortable with what we paid, it didn’t matter too much if we were overpaying a little.
Bonus tip: It’s also good manners to not only ask people if you can take their picture, but also give them a small tip if you do so. This chap and his donkey were perfectly happy for a group of about six to queue up and, one by one, take pictures. For 10MAD each.