Martha on the Move: The price is right in Morocco


August 20, 2010 – Lexington, Kentucky, USA – Martha Groppo, Features Editor of the Kentucky Kernel. (Credit image: © David Stephenson)

After a year as an editor at the Kernel, I decided to take a trip around the world. You would too.

Everyone is selling something in Morocco. Want an impromptu tour of the city? 60 dirham. Want to get a picture of that monkey? 10 dirham. Want to trade your watch for that bowl? No big deal. Heck, someone might even offer to buy you.

Morocco is country number eight on my trip around the world. It was the first country in which someone offered to buy me in exchange for 800 camels. Granted, I’m sure he was joking, but I’m still glad the guys traveling with me didn’t opt to take him up on the deal.

It may be just across the water from Spain, and they may speak French here, but Morocco is a world away from Europe. The exciting markets bustle with spices, fabrics and wares. The hot squares boast monkeys and snake charmers. It’s a shopper’s dream, but you better come prepared. You’re expected to haggle your way to the best price. Pushy shopkeepers will grab you and pull you into a storefront if given the opportunity, wrapping you in scarves, head turbans and jewelry.

Some of the girls traveling with me were surprised when a woman grabbed their hands and started decorating them in lovely henna. When they asked how much, she said “free.” It was only after she was done that she informed them they now owed her 200 dirham. One of the guys had a monkey jump on him and the owner laughed pleasantly as he took a picture with the nasty creature. The monkey then peed on the guy and started drinking out of his camelback. No matter. Sixty dirham for the memory.

Another clever tactic was draping a live snake around someone’s neck — 70 dirham to get it off. And you better believe most would pay a lot more than that.

You’ve got to be careful taking a picture of the square. If someone in the outer edge of your shot sees you, he might come up and demand 30 dirham for taking his picture.

The aggressive salesmanship might seem unpleasant or intimidating to Americans, but how many times have you looked forever for a store employee in a U.S. shop just so you could ask how much something cost? Good service and lots of personal shopping space don’t necessarily go together.

One Moroccan told me that haggling was the national sport. I’m inclined to believe him. At first I was nervous about arguing over prices, but by the end of my stay I had learned the trick of offering embarrassingly low prices and slowly building from there. It’s fun guessing how much something should cost — sort of like a marriage of “The Price is Right” and “Casablanca.”

When I hiked into the hills to visit a rural Berber family’s farm, I got a less commerce-based view of Morocco. The mint tea the family’s grandmother made me was a gift — as were the pretty henna designs one daughter made and the laughs and cuddles from two adorable Berber children. Their open hospitality left me wishing I could move into their earthen home for a few days, even though it would mean bathing in the river and not having indoor plumbing.

I bought a lot of things in Morocco and made a lot of exchanges, but one thing was free: my little Berber girl host waving to me from the doorway of her house as I left. That memory was the best thing I’ll be taking home with me, and I didn’t even have to haggle for it.

Martha Groppo is a journalism and history senior. Follow her blog at