Negotiation 101 – Moroccan Style

by Gray Cargill on October 11, 2011

I have never traveled to a country where haggling over prices is the norm, and I’m not sure I’d enjoy that. I don’t like being pressured to buy something and expected to know how low a price can really go. But some people grow to enjoy the negotiation process when they travel. I imagine the more you do it, the better you get at it. In any case, it sounds like a skill you want to cultivate if you’re traveling to certain countries. Today’s guest blogger, Matt Reider, shares his experiences negotiating prices in Morocco.

Djeema El fna

Djeema El fna, Marrakech

I’ve always had a fascination with Morocco. Last year, I finally decided to act on that fascination and booked a flight to the North African country. I ended up spending two weeks in Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and then Tangiers.

From the minute I exited the airport in Marrakech, I began my initiation into the world of Moroccan negotations. It began with the taxi. Prices varied wildly. The first guy wanted $30, but thankfully, I had done some research online before my trip and knew it shouldn’t cost more than $10 to get downtown. After finding a cabbie that would accept my price, I was off to Djeema el-Fna – the famous square in the middle of Marrakech. Of course, the cabbie had to stop and get gas. . .and then picked up a couple of his friends along the way.

How many times have you been in a cab where the guy takes a detour to pick up his buddies? In a foreign country, no less, where you don’t speak the language? Naturally, the first thing that went through my mind was: Are they going to rob me? Thankfully, no. The cabbie dropped us all off close to my hostel. Of course, I paid the fare.

Djeema El fna

Djeema El fna

The sites and smells of Marrakech’s Old Town Square struck me immediately. There was smoke rising from cooking fires, families sitting down to share a meal, women selling temporary henna tattoos to tourists, and even medicine men selling ostrich eggs and other strange ‘cures’ in jars. People were gathered around boiled goats heads and eating fantastic chicken tagine (a stew). In the mornings, vendors sell freshly squeezed orange juice. I wound up spending a lot of time in Old Town Square during my stay, and it was here I learned the art of Moroccan negotiations.

Normally, I don’t buy a lot of souvenirs and things while on vacation, but Morocco was the exception. I spent probably three or four days just shopping. Popping into shops, looking around and negotiating a price can take a surprising amount of time. Not because the shop has so much to look at, but because the sales process is an art form in and of itself!

If you’re traveling with friends, the negotiating can sometimes be a little easier – if you’re both on the same page. Often you can get prices combined and come out ahead. However you also run the risk of your partner side-tracking the negotiations. Shopping on your own is usually the best way to go, but you need to be comfortable with the negotiating process – otherwise you can feel intimidated and be sucked into a bad deal.

Djeema El fna

Djeema El fna

Negotiating in Morocco is all abut the ritual. You’ll be invited to join the shop owner for tea. There’s always a young kid around who the shop owner sends out to get you some overly sweet Moroccan mint tea. Usually you’re also offered a cigarette. Then come the questions: Where are you from? How long have you been in Morocco? Where are you staying? What do you do? Be careful, because the answers to these questions determine the starting prices!

If you tell them “Oh I’m from Canada,” then the price goes up.

“I’ve only been here since last night,” the price goes up.

“I’m a professional,” the price goes up.

You see where this is going.

I found the best method was to say that while I’m from Canada, I live in Istanbul and have a lowly teaching job. Oh, and I’ve been in Morocco for three weeks. This made them think I’d already been through the negotiation ritual several times, had time to shop around, and came from a city known for their markets.

Moroccan Shopkeeper

Moroccan Shopkeeper

Even with this strategy, there’s no escaping the ritual. You are still required to sit for an hour or two, chit chat, and then always return to the question of price. It’s like a game of chess. You don’t want to tip your hand too soon and let the salesman know you MUST have those leather slippers.

My best strategy, though, was to put just a bare minimum amount of money in my wallet, and then when making an offer actually break out the wallet and say “See, look – that’s seriously all I’ve got!” You’d be amazed at how well that works. I spent almost two days negotiating over a really nice engraved silver serving tray, but talked the guy down to around $50 – the negotiation started at over $200. You just have to stick to your guns and be ready to walk away.

Walking away, however, is easier said than done… I wasn’t prepared to walk away from Morocco when my two weeks was up, but at least I got some great souvenirs to bring home. A visit to Morocco is an adventure that will stay with you for a lifetime. I’d go back in a heartbeat, given the opportunity.

Matt Reider writes for Canuck Abroad Travel – one of Canada’s leading independent travel sites. Canuck Abroad provides travel advice for destinations around the world, as well as airfare, hotels, and a community of travelers to connect with.

Gray October 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Start it all over again? Ugh. Yeah, I wouldn’t much like that. I think I just wouldn’t shop, period.

Bianca @ Day Jaunts October 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Haggling drives me mad. Espcially when I’ve walked away from something and they don’t chase me. Then I know that I’ve gone too low and I have to start the process all over again.

I don’t think that I could handle spending two days negotiating a price.

Gray October 24, 2011 at 10:45 am

Oh, you sound like an experienced haggler, too! I like the coin trick, that’s a good one.

GRRRLTRAVELER October 24, 2011 at 7:32 am

I loved Morocco; I think that was my first haggling experience too. I hate haggling but because I like the more developing countries, it’s something I’ve gotten used to. I still hate it though and it usually deters me from shopping.

The “this is all I’ve got” line is something which definitely kicks that price down. If I really want to get the item, I size up how much I’m willing to pay for it. Then I put that in my wallet so that I can expose it when we haggle. Another thing I do is I put a LOT of small change and coins in my wallet, so when I pour it out into my hand, they see the coins, not the bills. Sneaky, I know but as a tourist, you know the price you get it at will still be higher than the local fare.

Thanks for the part about “how long have you been here?” The other lines, I guessed, so I always downplay my story, but I didn’t know that bit about duration (aka ‘having been around the block’)!

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