This Blog is a window to Tamazight( Berber) Culture in North Africa( Berber Land)
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Morocco provides lessons in bartering, Middle Eastern market culture
In Marrakesh, all roads lead to the market.
As soon as we arrived in Marrakesh, Moroccothis weekend, my friends and I knew exactly what our first stop would be. We were headed for the Medina, or the old city, which we knew was world-famous for its colorful goods and atmosphere.
I’ve traveled to many exotic cities while studying abroad, but this trip marked my first foray into Africa. I had high expectations for Marrakesh, one of the largest cities in Morocco, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The markets of Marrakesh are a shock to the senses: displays of pashmina scarves in every color and pattern, pyramids of cinnamon and cumin and the call to prayer resounding through loudspeakers. Motorcycles share the narrow streets with donkeys hauling carts, and you can find knockoff Converse shoes and traditional harem pants at the same stall.
Adding to the cacophony, vendors often call out in a quick succession of different languages to get your attention regardless of what language you speak. “Hola! Ça va, les filles? Good prices, student prices for you!” The Marrakesh markets are a mix of old and new, a linguistic melting pot.
Nothing about shopping in the Medina of Marrakesh is the same as shopping in America, or even Western Europe. In addition to the outdoor setting and insistent merchants, no prices are fixed. Shoppers are expected to barter for everything, and this can be a particular challenge for those who are clearly tourists. Vendors will try — and usually succeed — to overcharge non-natives.
The key to bartering in Marrakesh is to begin by naming a price less than half of what the merchant asked, then proving you’re willing to walk away if the price isn’t right. Though haggling can be a hassle,it’s worth the satisfaction of sealing a purchase with a handshake after a battle of wills.
Like with haggling, the advertising style of Moroccan merchants can take some getting used to. Upon seeing a gaggle of tourists walk by, vendors in doorways will try everything from offering discounts to following you down the street in an attempt to get your business.
It took me a while longer to notice one of the other differences between the Medina and other markets: the stalls of Marrakesh are run exclusively by men. The very few female vendors I saw either spread their wares on blankets in the main square or wandered through the alleys of stalls rattling handfuls of bangles.
Some of the purchases I made in Morocco took me by surprise — literally. Heedless tourists walking across the central square will find their hands grabbed and quickly painted with henna by women who then demand two or three hundred dirham (around $25-$35) for their services.
Even more alarming are the street performers armed with animals. After smiling and asking to see my hand, one man unceremoniously draped a (sedated) snake around my neck and asked my friend to take a picture, for which he charged me two hundred dirham.
My friend had it worse. After telling one merchant that she did not want and would not pay for a picture, she still found herself with a monkey dangling off her purse. When she refused to pay up, the vendor loudly expressed his views about her mother with a few choice words.
Despite being overcharged for the privilege of being assaulted with a snake, I don’t regret a single dirham I spent in the Marrakesh markets. I returned from a two-day trip with a Berber tapestry, blue leather slippers, a jewelry box, gifts for almost everyone I know and a fear of looking at my bank account.
Because I had so little opportunity to explore in the brief time I was there, I’m already forming plans to go back. But, for the sake of my bank account, I’ll put it off until I win the lottery.
Maggie Cregan is a sophomore history and magazine journalism major. From Cleveland to Syracuse to Strasbourg, she enjoys rocking out and getting hopelessly lost. If you want to talk to her about this column, or are Keith Richards, reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaggieCregan_SU.