Heading to Morocco? Awesome! Morocco is an amazing country with plenty to see and do. You will no doubt have plenty of opportunities to try traditional Moroccan dishes, see the famous sights and take lots of photos. But what should you look for that you can bring home and every time you see it be reminded of your exciting journey through Morocco? Here are a just a few ideas.
Leather from Fes
Almost every tour of Fes will include the old medina and a leather shop overlooking a tannery. Leather tanning has been practiced in Fes since medieval times, and the tanneries still use traditional and natural methods to treat the hides and turn them into a wide variety of useful items such as shoes, jackets, bags, belts, and more.
When you go to visit a tannery, you may be handed a sprig of mint when you enter because the smell can be a bit pungent due to the tanning process that includes soaking the hides in cow urine, pigeon poop, quicklime, salt and water to soften them. They use natural dyes made from poppy for red, indigo for blue, henna for orange and so on. No machinery is used, it is all done by manual labor. The result is super soft leather made into high quality leather goods in vibrant colors that you will not find anywhere else in the world!
Argan Oil in Marrakesh
I am sure you have seen advertisements in the media or products on the store shelves that say they contain Moroccan Argan Oil. The benefits of this oil for skin and hair are will known and the pure oil can be purchased in one of the several apothecaries in the medina. The oil is also edible and can be used to dip bread or drizzle on vegetables, etc.
The argan oil comes from a nut found in trees near Marrakesh and other places in southern Morocco. You might even see the trees with goat in them! The goats eat the nuts, and on some argan farms, the goats are helping save the farmers labor by eating the fruit that surrounds the nut and then the the farmers pick up the nut after it’s passed through the goat. Otherwise the labor intensive process of getting the outer fruit off the nut has to be done before the nut can be roasted (only for the culinary grade of oil, cosmetic oil production skips this step) and the oil pressed out. The white pulp left over from the pressing is generally used as an animal feed. Most of the argan oil is produced by women-run cooperatives, so buying argan oil in Marrakesh helps support the local economy and particular women entrepreneurs. Here is a good article about argan and its importance to Morocco.
While you are visiting one of the apothecaries you will also be able to buy a variety of natural remedies and treatments. So if you have an interest in herbal remedies, this is the place for you. There are other oils and plant essences or extracts, seeds, creams you can check out as well. And don’t forget, southern Morocco is well known for its rose extract industry. You will find the most amazing rose scented argan oil cream you have ever smelled here.
Ceramics in Fes
Because Fes has long been the cultural and arts capital of Morocco, there are workshops here for the all the major arts found in Morocco. One such craft is ceramics. You can see the process from start to finish in one of the main workshops, where apprentices learn the art, and then browse through the finished products. It may be challenging to get larger pieces home without damaging them but if you have the means (extra sturdy suitcase, access to additional packing material, etc) to take pieces home, then by all means, indulge in Fes. Many of the workshops also have souvenir pieces such as mini tagine pots, slipper figurines, small bowls and plates, etc. Those may be a more viable purchase if you think it might be too difficult to transport a larger piece.
Spices are found in every souk in Morocco. You will see colorful mounds of ground spices and spice blends, so if you enjoy cooking with authentic seasons for your dishes, this is the place to stock up on spices. If you plan to buy spice come prepared with extra sealable baggies or containers. Oftentimes the spices will be put into a thin plastic bag that won’t stand up to much pressure. So protect your spices and the interior of your luggage with additional bags to bring the spices home in.
How to Bargain in Morocco
For many people in the world, there’s no such thing as a Universal Product Code or price tag. The merchant sizes up the buyer, the buyer sizes up the merchant and each tries to obtain the best price. Many Westerners dislike bargaining in foreign countries, and see it as a waste of time or, worse yet, an opportunity to be swindled. However, bargaining can be pleasant — even fun — if you understand the “rules.” Everything in the souk can be bargained for, including the spices!
- Before going shopping, ask a local person how much you should pay for a particular item. This primarily applies to food or household items that residents might buy frequently. Or talk to your concierge if you’re interested in a specific high-ticket item. Even armed with this knowledge, however, expect to pay a little above the locals’ price — it’s often a matter of pride to get a better-than-average price from a tourist.
- Offer much lower than you really want to pay, generally in Morocco this would be a quarter to a third of the price quoted for souvenirs. If you are buying a rug in Morocco, you should consider an opening offer of no more than a tenth the asking price and pay about a fifth to a quarter of the original asking price.
- Be polite. This is where many tourists make a mistake. Insulting the seller by saying, “Your prices are outrageous,” or “Don’t try to cheat me!” won’t get you very far, and reinforces negative stereotypes about Westerners.
- It’s much better, in fact to humble yourself. Pick up an item you’re interested in. “You like?” the merchant asks. “Yes, it’s very nice.” “How much you pay?” “Oh, I could never afford such an item.” “Please tell me your price.” “I’m afraid I’d insult you if I told you what I could pay. I can’t pay what it’s worth.” “Go ahead, tell me how much you pay.” Then you name a ridiculously low price. The merchant will counter with a price that’s higher than what you said, but much lower than he might quote to other tourists. You can slowly raise your price, and he can slowly lower his; you’ve set yourself up well. Americans negotiate 50-50 by splitting the asking price, but this is not the rule where less than 50% of the asking price can be obtained. Try to figure out a reasonable wholesale price and add a reasonable profit for the seller.
- Don’t denigrate the merchandise. Conventional wisdom says to point out flaws or defects to get a lower price. In practice, this is a rather transparent tactic, and the fact that you’re bargaining for the item at all is a pretty good indication that you consider the defect minor. If there is a flaw you can live with, the better strategy is to bargain your best price without mentioning the flaw. Then, just before you’re ready to hand over the money, you “notice” it. Say that you’re sorry, but you don’t want it with the flaw, and start to put it back. The price will almost always come down a little further to get you to take it. (Note: This won’t work if there are similar items that are in good condition.)
- Give the merchant excuses to lower his price. Say you can’t afford the “normal” price because you’re a student. Or newly married. Or recently divorced. You have 10 children. You must support your elderly parents. You just lost your job. You just started your job.
- Good cop, bad cop. If you and your companion spot something you want, one of you should say, in front of the merchant, “Look at this! Isn’t it great?” The other should look at it with disdain, say, “Put it back,” and walk on. The merchant will approach the one who showed interest and encourage him or her to buy. Then, no matter what price is quoted, the answer should be, “Gee, for something that much, I’d have to ask my wife (husband, friend, etc).” The price will keep dropping every time you make a move to get the other person involved.
- Have a friend do the bargaining. Merchants can tell when you’re truly hooked on an item, and will have no incentive to go lower after they’ve seen that gleam in your eye. But find a friend who is truly disinterested, give him or her a set limit to spend and wait somewhere out of sight. The friend should tell the merchant he is buying for someone else, and at a certain point in the bargaining, should tell the merchant that he simply has no authority to go above that price. There is little a merchant can say other than “yes “ or “no.” He can’t move your offer.
- Walk away ~ even out the door. Sellers may chase you down the street! If you truly do not want the item, keep walking.