Mastering Moroccan markets

Mastering Moroccan markets

by Mary Del Rosario
Stripes Europe

The markets of Morocco are truly a place to explore and conquer in order to get the authentic Moroccan experience. However, between snake charmers, shouting vendors, scooters whizzing in and out of streets and the overall chaos, these famous souks can cause anyone to feel complete sensory overload. To make your journey in this bustling place manageable, check out these tips for a successful experience.

1. Brush up on your French
Because Morocco was colonized by France for many years, many of its people speak fluent French. In 1912, French was introduced as the language of government and educational intuitions. If you don’t know any Arabic but know a little bit of French (even if you can muster a few phrases that you remember from High School), communicating with locals will be easier.

2. Haggle… and then haggle some more
Moroccan vendors can spot a tourist from miles away. Knowing that, they’ll try to sell you items for way more than normal. Whether it be spices or lamps, prices will always be jacked up unless you learn the art of bargaining. Don’t worry though - It’s a normal process and in fact, vendors encourage it!

Tip: Morocco’s currency is the Dirham. Be sure to always carry cash with you.  

A colorful stand at a market in Marrakech, Morocco | Photo by zakariae daoui

3. Keep calm and be assertive when need be
Upon entering the Djemaa-El-Fnaa, Marrakech’s famous market, my boyfriend and I were greeted by persistent street vendors and entertainers. For example, A man put a snake on my boyfriend’s neck without asking for permission. After a second of not breathing, my boyfriend realized the snake can’t bite him. Still, it caused shock to us both. Also, while walking around, a lady approached me saying she’ll put a henna tattoo on my hand as a gift.  I let her and, in the end, she demanded I give her money (a lot of it, too!) Had we been more assertive and learned when to say no, we may have had more comfortable experiences.

Tip: To really be heard, say “la, shukraan” (la shoo kran). This means a firm “No, thank you.”

4. Ask permission before taking pictures
The sights of vibrant spices filled to the brim and ornately made lamps make for beautiful wallpapers for our phones but be sure to ask for permission first before snapping a few shots. Also, Moroccans prefer not to have their pictures taken so just be cognizant!

5. Have fun and be your own GPS
My Type-A personality shows when I travel, especially when I don’t know where I’m going. I always like to have a plan and know exactly where I am. After our GPS stopped working on our phones, I threw my uptight behavior out the window and just had fun meandering the streets and getting lost in the tangled mess of the streets of Marrakech. I’d turn around one corner and BAM! Another market selling handbags and leather catch my eye. Part of the souk experience is also ditching your maps and learning to go with the flow. However, be wary of locals who tell you they want to show you around. Many of them work together and they will lead you into shops and can be aggressive about it. Just remember rule #3!

A man selling oranges at a market in Morocco | Photo by Mika

6. Be open
Moroccans are one of the most friendly and open people I have met. They are constantly inviting you into their shops to try some tea and will sometimes offer bread. Though it may seem weird and you may feel obligated to buy something from them, remember there is no pressure. The vendors want to show you items they have to offer and when it comes to food, they want to make you feel welcome. Though I’m not the biggest fan of olives, seeing an abundance of colorful hues of green and blacks made me want to eat them!

Though Morocco’s souks can be overwhelming, it is also a fun and eye-opening place that must be crossed off your list when in this beautiful country. If the colorful and hidden doors aren’t enough to entice you, the spices pregnant with color sure will!  

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