We recently had a client call us to ask about planning a trip-of-a-lifetime for a milestone birthday in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Among the things she inquired about? Riding a camel into the desert and staying in a Bedouin camp under the stars (or maybe in a tent, under the stars). Yeah. We can make that happen. Expect to see a proposal in your in-box shortly, Brenda!
But putting this itinerary together got me thinking about my visit to Marrakech, a few years ago, which was awesome, but for which I was slightly unprepared. I was visiting for a conference, and staying just outside of the Medina (which was definitely funky, if not cold) in a business hotel. Since it was a work trip (and this was before I was in the travel and tourism industry), I didn't really have a lot of time to research what I should see and do. I just knew that I needed to get to the Medina, to check out the souks and that I should be prepared to get lost in a warren of shops and stalls and restaurants.
So, I did what any business traveler would do, and I hopped in a taxi outside of my hotel and said, "Take me to the Medina." I didn't realize that I could have walked there in ten minutes, but I also didn't realize that the cab drivers in Marrakech get a kickback for dropping tourists at certain establishments, where they might be offered a memento of their visit to Morocco. And by "might", I mean "will", and by "offered", I mean "the most polite way of being pushy while making a sales pitch."
I was not planning on buying anything in Marrakech, but I wound up coming home with a whole steaming boatload of souvenirs. And honestly, none of them are as special to me of the memory of being stranded in the parking lot of the Moroccan version of "Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament" after the dinner theater had closed and all of the other tour busses had pulled away. But that's for another post. THIS post is focusing on how not to get swindled in the souk.
Here are my top tips for how to handle yourself when the cab driver drops you off.
1. Be ridiculously polite. The folks who are trying to sell you things will be ridiculously polite. You should be more ridiculous than they are. And remember, it's not impolite to haggle. You just have to be effusive in your politeness when you do that haggling.
2. Don't even glance at anything that you don't want or need. If you're not going to wear that pair of ornate, embroidered and bedazzled slippers, not only should you not buy it--you shouldn't even look at them. From the moment you walk in the door, they've sized you up and decided that you're a slipper person, or a leather handbag person, or a hammered metal mirror person. And then they refine that assessment when you pause in front of things that attract your attention. This is not a museum. If you don't need slippers, don't pause to admire the slippers. Just move along.
3. Arrive having already been well-hydrated. Like, if you can show up with a full bladder, that's a good thing. The first thing they'll do is offer you mint tea. It's a nice gesture, but it's designed to make you feel obligated. Practice saying, (in a very polite way...see tip #1) "Oh, but I have a horrible allergic reaction to mint tea, so, no thank you."
4. If, perchance, you discover something you like and might want to purchase, decide for yourself what you'd be willing to pay for it and stick to your guns. I'm not even going to say "start with 1/3 of what they offered" or anything like that. You decide what the price should be, and that's the price. You're not buying AND selling the leather handbag; you're only buying the leather handbag. And you're only buying it if the price is what you think it's really worth. Trust me, if you walk away from a purchase because they can't meet your price, and if you've been polite and good natured (see tip #1) and they want the sale, they will follow you to the other end of the Medina (the funky, humid Medina...yeah, making that joke in a different way a second time in the same post so sue me).
5. Don't psyche yourself out. If you want something, and you can afford it, don't beat yourself up that you paid too much, and don't feel guilty that you paid too little. If you're willing to buy it at that price, and they're willing to sell it to you at that price, then that's clearly the "right price."
But above all else, keep in mind that you're being aggressively polite, and you're calling Huckleberry Travel when you want to book your trip to Morocco. Ahem.