The Fine Art of Haggling in Marrakech
by Erin Wylie
MARRAKECH – Shopping in Marrakech made me feel like a contestant on the The Price is Right. I was just guessing prices in the hopes that Bob Barker, or, in this case, a bearded businessman in a djellaba with a Bluetooth in his ear, would affirm my bid with a "Come on down!"
Nothing in the labyrinthine souks has a set price. Everything must be bargained for in a many-stepped ceremony akin to a line dance. The experience is weird, then fun, then tiresome, and if you misstep, you just want to stop. But you'll want to do it again and again.
Haggling in a foreign language wasn't the problem. My French, though awkward, was passable. Math was what stood between me and my Moroccan Calvins. At risk of sounding like a lazy moron, I hate doing it. Converting dirham into dollars in unpleasant multiples of eight led to some bad haggles while trying to wrest a pair of (reputedly) camel skin boots with colorful carpet uppers from the aforementioned businessman.
His starting bid was 1200 dirhams. After two walk-outs (a vaudevillian attempt to make the seller think you've given up on the purchase) and an accidental raising of the price (my bad), I slipped on the thankfully-not-camel boots for, well ... a true spendthrift never scores and tells.
But after I quibbled with a Berber man who was blind in one cloudy blue eye over what was essentially $2, I remembered that traveling isn't about driving a hard bargain. It's about supporting talented craftsmen, losing yourself in the tangle of alleys that buzz with pesky motorbikes, and stopping to smell the harissa-spiced roses. And lording your cheap, worldly finds over your friends back home.
WHERE TO SHOP
Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, where I found the boots, has some of the best (and least aggressive) vendors.
Rahba Kedima is a nice, colorful square packed with lots of different vendors.
Souk Zabria (aka Criée Berbère) is a magical carpet souk at the end of Rabha Kedima. Because there are many carpet vendors in one place, I found that their prices were much higher than the random vendor whose stall was mixed with slipper and jewelry vendors. The experience of walking through is lovely though.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Bayti Riad, a really nice riad tucked away down an alley.
See the locations. (Google Maps)