The souk in Morocco is a fascinating place. Depending on the season, you’ll be able to buy peeled cactus fruit, silver teapots, and strings of dried figs. In some areas, like Rabat, the old city souk also carries more day-to-day products like towels and chargers. It isn’t strange to see local street food and tea served hot and fresh right next to a stack of jeans. The most common tourist destinations preserve their sense of old-town charm with covered, winding streets. Even when they are crowded with people from all over the world, it isn’t hard to imagine those same halls were equally packed with life centuries ago. If you venture out into a souk in Marrakesh today though, there are a few things you should know.
There are countless suggestions on how to best bargain. Maybe, that is because everyone has their unique style. What works for your friend may not work for you. Practice is the only way to figure out your own technique. There are some general tips though: whatever price a Moroccan offers, suggest half of that and prepare to meet in the middle. Moreover, if you pick up any Arabic, see if you can eavesdrop on how much the locals are paying and go in with a smile.
Regardless, remember you’re not going to get a “local’s” price. Nor should you since Moroccans generally have significantly less money than those who visit their countries. If it’s worth it to you, get it even if you know someone else would have paid less.
If people struggle getting around France on high-school French, that’s nothing compared to what Arabic students face in Morocco. Moroccan Arabic, frequently called Darija, is difficult for Arabic speakers from other countries to understand. In fact, TV stations in the Middle East caption Moroccans. If you like listening to tapes before a trip, try and find Morocco specific tools. Or if you’re white, brush up on your French and/or Spanish since people will assume that is what you speak. However, there are a few Darija terms you can pick up quickly.
TAKEAWAY: “La-shukran” means “no, thanks” and is the best way to shut down a hassler. “Ha-dah zween / ha-dahee zweenah” means “that is pretty.” The first is masculine and the later feminine. But don’t worry about gender, although you can try to guess based on other languages you may know, pick one and point. Everyone will understand what you mean. “Labess? Labess!” is the common Moroccan greeting. It means “All is well? All is well.” Furthermore, if you’re feeling fancy, respond with “labess, il-hamdillah,” which means “all is well; thank God.”
Sorry ladies, there is street harassment in Morocco. It is particularly noticeable in the souks. If you’re blond, expect comments about that. And the best way to prevent it is to travel with men. Nonetheless, walking with a local man is the only way to be completely sure no one will bother you. You can go on you’re own though. Walk with confidence. Don’t be afraid of looking rude or mad. It is amazing what an absent expression and good posture will do. Even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working, if you pretend to be self-assured for long enough, you will be.
Money Can’t Buy You Friends
If people offer to lead you around, they aren’t being nice. They want money. The most innocent offenders will just take you in and ask for money. Others, however, will purposely put you in side-streets so you have a hard time getting out. Better just to say “la-shukran” if someone offers to guide you.
Little kids are similarly unhelpful. Unless you want to buy a packet of kleenex, walk straight past them. While they are generally harmless, the kids can sometimes be more invasive than the adults. One particularly determined girl plucked out a friends hair and canceled my attempt to purchase a train ticket when we refused to give her money.
Whether with a “guide” or a child, giving them money often does not help ebb hassling. Sometime others will read this as a cue that you are a target. If you feel bad, go for it. You are significantly better off than they are. Just don’t expect peace and quiet or useful help as a reward.
Petty theft is common on all busy sites. Hence, Moroccan souks are no exception. The best way to avoid it is being smart, carrying your items close to you, etc. But if someone does try to swipe something from you, yell “thief” (“shffar” in Darija) and chase after. You can also try shouting “hada de-alie” or “that is mine!” Moroccans will know what is happening and often try to help.
Walking through a souk in Marrakesh is an experience for all of the senses. There are smells, sights, sounds, and (for a price) tastes. They are a must on any Moroccan travel list not only because they provide a major attraction, but because they are virtually unavoidable. If you want a souvenir, produce, or anything else you can imagine, the souk has it. You can find some ideas for which unique souvenirs to pick up in Marrakesh. No matter what you are searching for, or if you’re not searching for anything, the souk will make the shopping an experience to remember.