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There will be no super air con or embarrassingly helpful staff when you’re strolling up and down the souks. Instead, you will be hit by a blast of sweltering heat, ogling eyes and dirty streets. Mentally prepare yourself to be called Lady Gaga (if you have blonde hair), Miley Cyrus (if your hair is brown), or even Mrs Obama. My Chinese heritage meant I got the typical associations with Kung Fu, as well as Jackie Chan, despite my female gender!
While the Moroccans may be somewhat limited with their knowledge of Hollywood celebrities, they certainly like their banter! It’s definitely best not to take anything they compare you with to heart, as they’re often ludicrous comparisons only made to trigger a reaction from you. These stall sellers are on the street, day in, day out, for hours on end, watching endless floods of tourists pass by their stall- it’s not surprising that they try to entertain themselves in whatever way they can! Yes, if you are sweaty, tired and irritable, there may be times when you find the street sellers extremely annoying or just downright rude. However, if you are in the mood to hunt for a bargain and participate in a bit of banter, you will have the time of your life, and could find the street sellers ‘tongue in cheek’ and even rather charming.
It is important to go into the souks with the right attitude. Don’t take it too seriously and be confident. If you are a timid and naive tourist the street sellers will smell this out like hungry wolves and pounce. If they think it is your first time walking through the souks, they may very well try their luck charging you up to 4 times the amount an item is worth. My number one tip would be to have a good shop around before purchasing anything, as there’s nothing more annoying than buying a beautiful set of authentic Moroccan tea glasses or an amazingly intricate woven rug to find that the stall around the corner is selling the same item for less than half the price.
Shopping in the souks is not like shopping in arcades in the UK; it is a battle ground, so make sure you come out victorious! It is also not like shopping in Selfridges, where although you know an item is a rip off you have no choice but to buy it for that price or leave it. In the souks, you have the power to drive the price right down, sometimes to even lower than you initially thought possible. The feeling you get when walking away with a desired purchase is so much more rewarding if you had to fight for it.
The souks are so much more than just shopping: they are also educational. Walking through the souks you are bound to find things that you never knew existed. Just ask! The street sellers are usually more than happy to explain what things are, and don’t worry about being pressured into buying; they’re used to people showing interest in something with no intention of buying it. Just make sure that you are firm and polite in declining. That way everyone comes out happy! The street seller has practiced his English and imparted much appreciated knowledge, while you have come out with a better understanding of Moroccan culture.
The souks are vibrant, fun, and full of colourful sights and tantalising smells that set your senses alight. Embrace the banter, find a bargain, and learn something new. It’s an experience like no other!
By Laura Brindley
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham