Gift shopping in the souks

the souks in Marrakech

I love the crafts and goods for sale in Morocco and I love a shopping mission to hunt down the perfect gift for friends and family.  I have already written about the hunt for ma’quda to decorate towels as a present for my mum; buying spices; and my hunt for a handcrafted zellij mosaic (OK, that was a present for myself!).

The bargaining and haggling can be a bit daunting, but all you need to know are my top five tips to keep your wits (if not your cash) in the souk:

  1. The goods you want to purchase don’t have a price; you do.  The price you are quoted for the object of your desire will be entirely based on what the stallholder thinks he’ll get from you.
  2. Figure out what you’d be willing to pay and then suggest a figure around a third of the quoted price.  If the shopkeeper won’t budge, walk away.  He’ll either drop the price or you can start again at his competitor’s shop.
  3. Check the workmanship/size/quality and if it’s not good, walk away.  You’ll find better elsewhere.
  4. Above all, enjoy it!  Don’t take it too seriously.  Enjoy the banter; sip the mint tea and keep your humour.  My friend was once sold a pair of slippers of different sizes, but she really didn’t mind because the shopkeeper was so charming while he fleeced her!!
  5. Finally, these guys are experienced.  If shopping in the souk still sounds a bit intimidating to someone used to their local supermarket, do what I do and take along a local!

Item number one on my list was a summer weight djellaba (like a hooded dressing gown you pull over your head) for my mate Will’s birthday.  He thought it would be perfect for lounging around the house.  We managed to find a denim blue one in Essaouira.  First of all, we checked the price we should pay with a shopkeeper who didn’t have what we were looking for and then once I’d found one of suitable quality at another stall (no loose threads, neat top stitching and tidy rows of ma’quda), my chief negotiator went in for the kill.  One djellaba for the right (local) price; tick!

one very happy recipient of a djellaba (doing a good impersonation of Obi Wan Kenobi!)

one pair of babouches with matching ma'quda

We had spent a week in Essaouira looking for white babouches (flat leather slippers) at the request of a friend, but they were either the wrong size, poorly sewn or revealing the marker pen lines used to trace the pattern.  One pair didn’t even match!  We left that item for Marrakech and managed to find two lovely pairs – one with ma’quda and one with iridescent sequins in the souk off Rue Derb Dabachi in the medina.  Again, I took a back seat and let my friend do the talking.  Et voila!  Two pairs for the price my friend was willing pay for one; tick!

and a second pair with sequins

 I had really been struggling to find something for my mum.  She’s not keen on babouches (too flat) and she doesn’t like kaftans and djellabas (she has a weird phobia of pulling clothes over her head!) and she doesn’t need any more knick-knacks for the house.  However, she loves handicrafts and when we passed the shop of Mohamed Tijani further along Rue Derb Dabachi (opposite Derb Jdid), I knew I would find something perfect for her.  As he took pleasure in explaining to us, Monsieur Tijani sources hand embroidered tablecloths and table mats from Berber women in the villages of the Atlas Mountains.  The produce is fairly traded and provides valuable income for families in rural areas.  The patterns on the two oversized mats I bought were traditional Berber designs and Mohammed was happy to demonstrate them for the camera! Gift for hard-to-buy-for mum; tick!

Monsieur Tijani and his "broderie marcocain"

Last on the gift list was something for a couple of female friends.  Mme Ziani came up with the goods in her lovely little shop, Le Nature, on Rue Riad Zitoun Jdid.  The shop sells all sorts of beauty and home gifts and hammam accessories such as argan oil soap, embroidered cushion covers and lovely little purses, make up bags and iPad covers featuring stylised traditional designs, such as the hand of Fatima (believed to ward off evil – every woman needs that in the bathroom!!).  Cute, wipe clean purses for friends; tick!

Hand of Fatima purse

Shopping is hard work.  If you are doing yours in Marrakech, check out my chill out tips!

If you’d like me to do the hard work for you, drop me a line via the comments box.  There’s only one thing better than shopping and that’s shopping for someone else!

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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5 Responses to Gift shopping in the souks

  1. yassine100 says:

    good subject to write about shopping in Morocco,and especially marrakech. people (Moroccans / foreigners) find hard time with shopkeepers there !!!
    nice pics 😉

    • mikanqueen says:

      Wow! I’m surprised to hear that even Moroccans find the Marrakchi shopkeepers a challenge! Hopefully fellow shoppers will find my tips useful – the beautiful products are definitely worth the effort!

  2. Susan Kenworthy says:

    The little purse is lovely ! I thought the shopkeepers in Marrakech were definitely more up for haggling than the ones in Essaouira. The man I bought the ‘I love Gnawa’ badges from wouldn’t budge an inch !

    • mikanqueen says:

      I think that the larger the item, the more scope for haggling. I guess also that under the ‘no fixed price’ philosophy that (foreign) customers are so much more numerous, stall holders know they will make back any losses through less savvy customers during the day/week. In smaller cities and towns, that might not be so certain, particularly in the current situation of reduced tourist numbers….

    • mikanqueen says:

      By the way, orders happily taken for purses – they are available in all colours and sizes, with and without tassels! 😉

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