Marrakech Markets - Adventures in bartering and being ripped-off.


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Saved: June 29th 2010
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LightsLightsLights

Wish we could have taken some home but not too practical in a backpack.
Shopping in Marrakech.

We're constantly plagued by thoughts inundating our minds about how we were constantly being ripped off while in Morocco. This is a common theme for us, as well as most travelers. And we're not talking about paying more for something compared to a local. We're talking about sellers that start the price off at 10 times a reasonable price then insult you and harshly argue with you when you offer to pay less than this extreme price. And then you get screwed because when you half the initial price, you're still paying 5 times what you could be paying! It's actually quite genius... and frustrating. GRRRR.

Unfortunately, nothing about prices can be simple in Morocco -- you cannot just ask for a price of an item because it's ridiculously high. So if you want to know how much actually something costs, be prepared to spend about 10 minutes discussing the item, and then be prepared to buy it. Even if you leave the shop, the owner will follow you out in the street and desperately try to make the sale. This will involve the seller explaining how beautiful and amazing the product is, how it's made
Pastry vendorPastry vendorPastry vendor

What a beautiful display of pastries...too beautiful to resist! Honey, nuts, almonds....YUMMY!
of the finest materials and hand-crafted by a local artisan. You'll hear the spiel about how the seller is crazy to even offer you an item at the price he's offering, but is doing it because business is slow and he's giving you the best price. Blah, blah, blah. This exchange gets old fast.

You may read this and think, yeah, I get it, but nothing can really prepare you for the hassle and bartering involved a simple stroll down the street in Marrakech. Sure, we read about it in all our guidebooks, online blogs, and discussed it with other travelers. But this doesn't do it justice. You see, "bargaining" as several books so eloquently describe it, is a way of life in Morocco. It's to be expected with the purchase of basically anything and everything, food included. Especially if you're white and speak English. And it really adds to the experience of Morocco. That's not to say that we like it. Noooo. We hate it. It's annoying. Very annoying. But we did figure out after a while that Moroccans don't like to appear dishonest in front of other Moroccans. We often ended up being less ripped off in shops or taxis when we would ask for prices around locals. However, note that if you're around a local, the price may also jump up because the shop owner will owe the local a fee for bringing you into the store. It's a catch-22 situation, GRRR.

Nevertheless, we wanted to buy several trinkets and treasures to remind us of this magical Arabian country. And there's plenty of shopping to do in Marrakech! Thus the shopping adventure began! Here's a list of the items we purchased and prices paid:

Aladdin lamp - 110DH/$13.75. This purchase took approximately 10 minutes. The seller's original price was 400DH/$50. It's a gorgeous and heavy lamp with detailed carvings, but we were only willing to pay 100DH for it. We "bargained" for the item for several minutes, looked at other items, then came back to that item. The owner, picking up on what size we wanted, offered a much smaller lamp for 100DH knowing that we wouldn't take it. He even offered a much larger lamp that we weren't interested in for 100DH, also knowing that we wouldn't take it. Then he went on to explain what good quality copper it was, how heavy it was, he pointed out the coloring on it and the carvings... he explained how he would lose money if he sold it for less than 300DH... blah. But lots of places sell these lamps, so not getting the price we wanted, we exited the store. But lo and behold, who comes running after us? Oh it's the owner, and now the price had dropped to just 200DH. No thank you. We said maximum price 100DH. We kept walking. Then we heard his voice again and he was rushing after us. Okay, okay he said. Just 150DH and it's yours. Again, we had to inform him that 100DH was our maximum. We walked away again. Guess what? He came running after us again. This game was becoming annoying and finally we gave in to this insistent seller. We paid him 100DH plus 10DH for him to get a coffee.

Teapot and tea glasses - 100DH/$12.50. We entered a shop because it had a sign on the window "6 glasses for 1 Euro." But of course, once we were in there, the owner explained that it was actually six glasses FROM one Euro... and no six glasses were one Euro.
Laure in the souksLaure in the souksLaure in the souks

This photo is nice but does not reflect the souks at all! Where are the the chickens? Donkeys? MOTORCYCLES? People pushing food carts? Let's not even talk about the smells! :)
But while we tried to walk out at that, he grabbed Laure's arm and began his spiel. Indeed, he makes the glasses right there in the shop. It's his hobby, his profession, and what feeds his family of six. As he explained it, he supports his large family by selling the finest tea glasses in all of Morocco. He even showed us how nice the glasses were and the wide assortment he had. He showered Laure with compliments and called her a Berber lady! He desperately wanted us to select six glasses and then he would make us a "good price." Needless to say, 20 minutes and fourteen attempts at leaving later (no, we are not kidding), we ended up purchasing six glasses and a teapot for 100DH. This was quite the bartering extravaganza! Even fun! It should be noted that we had previously tried to buy this exact same teapot at several stores wherein the initial "best price" was between 250-350DH ($31.25 - $43.75). We have a distinct feeling that even this seller made significant money off the transaction. At least we walked away feeling that we got an extremely good deal. Laure even got a kiss on the cheek! 😊

Two Leather poufs - 350DH/$43.75. Laure had her heart set on leather poufs so we ventured into a store before it was closing and started the bartering process. Initially, one pouf was 400DH, and that was the "best price possible." After a few minutes of negotiation, we got the price down to 300DH but the seller wouldn't go below that. We walked out of the store. But this time we weren't followed! What the heck? It must be too late or the owner too tired to follow after us we thought. So we re-entered the store again and offered 350DH for two. They discussed this price for a few moments, came back with 400DH, then we reiterated 350, reply 400, reply 350, then 400, then 350... and then David began to exit the shop, stating loudly to Laure that 350 was the maximum and we would find someone else to sell it to us for that price. But the seller then agreed and we purchased our "finest material camel skin" poufs. Later we found these same poufs for sale in a set-price store for 350DH each.

Brass plate - 300DH/$37.50. Morocco offers a splendid assortment of
BabouchesBabouchesBabouches

Babouches were so beautiful! Laure was really tempted to get some but while she would have totally fit in in Morocco, not too sure she would have pulled it off in Miami!
beautifully decorated, hand-detailed brass plates. And we wanted one! We found a shop that had one we liked and began the price battle. Initial offer: 1,400DH/$175. Oh dear lord. We knew this was going to take a while. We patiently listened to the seller's siren song, trying to hypnotize us into purchasing the plate at an elevated price that would make him instantly wealthy. Oh we heard all about how it was made, how amazing this one was, how we had good taste for picking it, how intricate the design was, how it was only made by one Berber family in all of Morocco and nothing else in his store even compared to it, blah, blah, blah. He even scrapped the back of the plate to show us the quality of the material. But our offer of 150DH was insulting and thus we had to hear all about plates, and how 150DH wouldn't even be enough to purchase a little plate. He showed us other plates that we should consider for less money (fully knowing that we had our hearts set on this one). Eventually, he agreed to 300DH. But upon close inspection of the plate, David discovered that the seller had switched it with another plate!!!! We knew this because the scratch mark was missing!!! So we demanded to know whether it was the same plate, which of course the seller proclaimed it was, but we knew better. So we abruptly left and stormed out of the store. This really infuriated David and his blood was boiling. Not only did we have to play along with the seller and play into the long, drawn-out twenty minute purchasing act, but he freaking switched items on us and then lied about it!! And then pretended that he didn't understand why it wasn't the same plate despite the lack of the scratch mark!! Not surprisingly, another seller from the shop came chasing after us in the street, claiming that he was the son of the owner, blah blah blah, and we ended up purchasing the plate for 300DH in the middle of the street about an eighth of mile away from the store. It was still probably a rip-off. GRRR.

Fatima hand - 350DH/$43.75. We wanted an antique door handle and found the perfect one. But the price was 1,500DH/$187.50. Another round of bartering began. We heard all about the Fatima hand, what it represented, how getting a used one (like the one we picked out) was good luck, how this one was at least 50 years old, how it was amazing quality and made from great materials, how the details were hand carved into the metal, how it was an ancient procedure which wasn't done anymore, etc. On and on the story goes. We tried to walk away numerous times but the seller had a firm hold on Laure (and her arm), knowing that Laure was the one in love with the door handle. The price kept falling but our maximum price remained the same. After four solid minutes of dialogue composed of solely of "what's your maximum price?" "350" "Give me your best price" "350" "give me more money" "350 is maximum price" "what's your best price?" "350" (not joking here)-- and at the moment when David felt himself transforming into a broken record, the seller finally broke down and sold it for 350. While we're content with this price, we could have probably purchased it for less. The seller was a nice old man though, and we did talk him down almost 80 percent.

Dagger - 400DH/$50. David wanted an antique dagger as a souvenir. The prices on these varied wildly from store to store because the materials, quality, age, inability to get a fair price, etc. Eventually, David decided on one whose initial price was 1,300DH/$162.50. Oh, believe us, it's heavy, has hand-carved details, camel bone handle, antique, amazing, etc. This purchase took about 7 minutes and four thwarted escapes. Eventually David came up to 400, even though he didn't want to go over 300, and we bought it. Again, we could have probably purchased it for less. GRRR.

Now all these items are proudly showcased in our home and we have interesting and fun stories to tell about each and every single one of them. While it may have been a hassle purchasing them, it was all worth it at the end.


Additional photos below
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