How to Bargain with a Moroccan (or, Schmoozing 101)
For my second to last post from the Maghreb (I leave on the 14th!), I thought I’d write a guide to something that is an essential skill here: bargaining. I have yet to master the art of bargaining, which essentially amounts to the right combination of charm and disgust*, but I’ve come a long way since the beginning. Let me also say that though the dollar-to-dirham ratio makes everything in Morocco a steal for Americans and the prices are comparatively low from the start, bargaining is expected and necessary. It’s also really fun. Below are two examples of my bargaining efforts — one from an early attempt and one recent success. Please learn from my many mistakes and don’t take no for an answer.
*Warning: this post contains numerous exclamation points.
Example bargaining attempt #1:
Me: (Timidly and quietly.) Salaam aleikum.
Shopkeeper: (Cheerfully.) Aleikum salaam! Welcome! You want to buy something?
Me: Oh, um, yes. Well, I’m just looking. (Tries French.) Uh, juste voir?
Shopkeeper: Yes, good! Come, I show you.
Me: No thanks, la shukran, I’ll just look around.
Shopkeeper: Yes! Look! I have good price for you!
Later, after spotting a scarf that would make a good gift.
Me: Ok, um, how much is this? Bash-hal?
Shopkeeper: (Very excited.) Ah, beautiful! Is 150 dirham ($18).
Me: Hm. Could you maybe make it 120 dirham?
Shopkeeper: No! I give you good price! Hand-woven scarf 150 dirham.
Me: Um. Well. Alright. Shukran.
Conclusion: FAILURE. Mistakes made: Seeming unsure of yourself, not bargaining at all, accepting the final price.
Figure 1 The "hat man" in Chefchaouen.
Example bargaining attempt #2:
Me: Salaam aleikum! La bahs? How are you?
Shopkeeper: Aleikum salaam! La bahs! You speak Arabic?
Me: Shwiya, a little.
Shopkeeper: Ah, shwiya! Mumtaz! Excellent! You are from America?
Me: Yes, I’m studying in Rabat.
Shopkeeper: Student! What you are studying?
Me: Journalism and Arabic.
Shopkeeper: Mumtaz! You like Morocco?
Me: Bezzaf! A lot! Very beautiful.
Shopkeeper: (Beaming with pride.) So beautiful, yes! You want to buy something?
Me: (Shrugs nonchalantly.) Maybe. I’m just looking.
Shopkeeper: Ok, ok. If you have any question, you ask me.
Later, after picking out a medium-sized woven rug for my dorm room.
Me: This is beautiful, how much? Bash-hal?
Shopkeeper: Ah! For you, 300 dirham ($36). Good price.
Me: WHAT! Three hundred dirham! That’s absurd! C’est ridicule! Too much!
Shopkeeper: No, I give you best price! Very good for hand-made carpet!
Me: La, la, la. No, no, no. I could give you 100 dirham.
Shopkeeper: One hundred! Nooooo. You can pay 270 dirham.
Me: Mon Dieu! So much for a rug! I can pay 150 dirham. That’s it.
Shopkeeper: (Laughing.) Laaaaa. Noooo. 250. Last price.
Me: I am a student! Two hundred.
Shopkeeper: 250. Last price.
Me: (Leaving the shop.) Meshi mushkila, no problem. I can buy a rug somewhere else. Shukran.
Shopkeeper: (After a beat.) Ok! Ok, for you, 200 dirham. No problems.
Me: Shukran bezzaf! Thanks a lot! Good price.
Conclusion: SUCCESS. Things done right: entering the shop with confidence, striking up a conversation with the shopkeeper (because it’s friendly), not looking too much like you really want to buy something, reacting with appropriate shock when a first price is proposed, starting the bargaining at half or less than the proposed price, playing the “I’m a student” card, not backing down, walking away if shopkeeper is being stubborn, being appropriately grateful when you get what you want.
Figure 2 An artist in Chefchaouen paints as we browse his shop.
In Morocco you can bargain for everything from a taxi ride (DO bargain for these because you will get royally ripped off) to a dress to a teapot. It’s hard to know when and how to bargain when you first arrive and don’t know how much anything should cost, but you’ll get the hang of it. I once had a shopkeeper tell me, after I told him I was from Atlanta, to give him the “democratic price, for Atlanta.” I refrained from telling him that Georgia is quite a republican state and that it would be unlikely to give him democratic anything.
Really, the most important thing is to try. The mere act of trying will let shopkeepers know you’re not a total newb. And that, my friends, is Madeleine’s Abbreviated Guide to Bargaining. For more on how to’s and useful Moroccan words, check out my gem of a blog at www.nomadeleine.wordpress.com. Look out for a closing Quintessential post about two weeks from now when I’m home reunited with salt and vinegar chips. Bi’salaama!