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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Marrakesh – walking and shopping in the Souks in the Medina


Last time I was staying in the Medina and decided to embrace the souks and getting to know them. Walking through the souks, you often end up getting lost, however after a couple of days I managed to find my way around a bit and also found myself connecting the dots - so to speak - between different areas and finding myself unexpectedly close to ‘home’ and/or not a long way away. What a sense of achievement, feeling you getting to grips with the city, you are starting to know it. I love it!
Going back to your favourite shop or café/restaurant. I tend to stay away from the big touristy restaurants. And, as I have allergies and do not eat meat, it is rather restrictive where I eat. Nevertheless I found some brilliant places to eat or take away food.


I suppose when you first go though the souks they all seems very similar. However once you get some firm points you can move from there. You need to believe that all connects with each other and eventually you’ll get close and where you want to be. It seems a nice, clear map of the souks is unobtainable. Perhaps it is all part of the trick to let you get lost in them, like in our supermarkets where they change the shelves/food aisles layout to ‘encourage’ you to buy things you usually do not need or want.
Same in Marrakesh, either that or to give work to the guides, official or not, who then get paid, therefore making it another way to boost the local economy. The souks are a city within the city (the Medina is). The souks are  differently named and the names are defined by the trade based in and around that area. So you get the ‘babusher’ for the leather slippers and the one for the dyers, and so forth. Which is kind of handy if you know what you want to buy and you can aim straight to that ‘quartier’ and have plenty to choose from.


It is harmless to go through the various alleys and street and squares. The trick is not to be lured into all the shops and only when you feel like it. I often find the one that do not harass you and drag you in, are the best. You need to follow your instinct and I found a lot of very nice people that have a love for what they sell and make. I like mostly the artisans, not so much the shop keepers who are just trying to shift another item. In all or the majority of the souks you find motorcycles speeding through despite the crowds. There are also the occasional tricycle and lots of bicycles and carts. The worse are the motorcycles as they produce huge amount of fumes, which I find pretty toxic when inhaled. Not sure if this is due to the mix of petrol & oil they use – different from ours – and/or also to the large number of motorcycles in such confined and enclosed spaces that makes it for a not very nice air quality to breath in, as well as having to be pretty much on the alert as they spring out from nowhere behind you!

As I mentioned shopkeepers do their best to get you into their shop and buy. They start the conversation with ‘bonjour, comment se va?’ (Good morning, how are you?) and it is handy if you know a few phrases of French to be able to reply. Although my 20 year old ‘Moyen’ level French is now pretty rusty, I am told my pronunciation is good, it helps, I suppose, that I speak Italian. However it makes it complicated as I need to translate from English to Italian, and then from Italian to French as most words and phrases are similar. Nevertheless I've often wished I could speak it better, especially when bartering so I have just bought an online a refreshers course on CD to listen in the car, I reckon 30+ minutes a day, it will do the trick and put it in my ear and refresh both my vocabulary and phrases. Will let you know.

Souks and sellers

Anyway, back to what we were discussing... Marrakeshi souks sellers. Even though I respond to the ‘Bonjour’ I often keep on going. Some of the more pushy shopkeepers shout at you ‘just looking’ hoping, in so doing, to invite you in their shop… I think they do not fully understand the meaning of the phrase… do not let me put you off window shopping! It is the best part. You need to be firm if you do not want to buy. They will trick you and kind of making you feel guilty. Do not be fooled! You don’t want to buy, you do not buy. No matter how far in your negotiations you have gone, or how many bags, shoes, carpets, etc. they have got down from the shelves. Enjoy the experience. I tend to ask prices first and also look at the quality. Once I decide the shop I want to buy from I get in and chat with them.

One of the things that drive me mad in Morocco is when you ask about the price and they reply to you with another question: ‘How many?’ Arggghhhh! Even though it would make sense that the more you buy the better the price, many years ago I found it not necessarily true when I found myself in a small Moroccan town. I wanted some of the lovely colourful typical bowls and set about asking prices. It followed a sort of tag of war. Finally I was given some prices, different colour had different prices. So, as I was going about choosing some bowls, I was mentally adding up the price. At the end I put them on the table and my idea was to bargain – as that is the norm – however the guy quoted me a price higher than what I had totalled up having used his prices - given to me a few minutes before – so I left without buying anything. I found having a base price is essential, and then you can decide if you want more than one and so forth before starting haggling. It is also the case of what you think it is worth it.

Last time I was in Marrakesh however I was ‘done’ on a small bottle of Sprite. I asked for the price at a small bar/shop and was told 6 dirham. Fair enough, I knew a similar size bottle of water was a little bit cheaper so I accepted the price in good faith, paid and left. Once out of the shop I cleaned the top and side before opening it and ‘oh and behold’ there was a pre-printed price on the plastic bottle: 3 dirham!! What could I do!?! Annoying though. I did not go back as I was a few paces away from the shop and had already opened it. It wasn’t so much the money, really pennies, it was the principle!
You have been warned and have lots of fun as you go around.


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