Shopping in the Medina

After almost three weeks in Morocco, I have done my fair share of shopping…maybe too much shopping. Jenn and I can see the Rabat Medina from our front door, so the majority of shopping that I’ve done for myself and for friends and family has been there. Our first trip to the Medina was with Dr. Amster and the whole class as part of a tour of the city. I was grateful to have Dr. Amster there to show us the ropes and give us tips on shopping and navigating the Medina because at first glance it’s a bit of an assault on the senses. Visually there is something differently to look at every way you turn be it scarves, ceramics, carpets, or a number of other local crafts. As you walk through the medina you can hear shop keepers on all sides calling out prices for their merchandise or yelling out greetings to try and entice shoppers to come take a look. Additionally, different parts of the medina have their own distinct smells ranging from leather, to spices and fresh mint.

Being new to Medina shopping, it was kind of overwhelming at first as it felt very different from shopping back home in Canada. The biggest difference is that in the Medina you are able to, if not expected to negotiate prices with the shop keepers. We were told my AMIDEAST staff that many shop keepers will double and sometimes triple their prices for tourists. Several of us were victims of this during our first few trips to the medina. Even knowing this I still felt a little uncomfortable haggling for lower prices, especially because many of the prices were still much cheaper than they would have been in Canada.

The shop keepers can also come across as a bit aggressive sometimes. You can guarantee that if you stop to look at something that there will be someone by your side showing you that something in three other colours before you can blink an eye. Even if you happen to glance at something in passing you will hear some combination of “you like”, “good price”, or “I have more colours”. It can be hard to just browse without feeling obligated to purchase something.

At first it felt like shopping in the Medina was on a completely different planet than what I was use to at back home. However the more a thought about it, and compared my experience working in retail I realised it wasn’t all that different after all. While prices in stores aren’t usually negotiable, as a sales associate you are often encouraged to up sell or encourage customers to purchase more items in order to take advantage of a certain promotion. I have experienced similar sales techniques in the Medina where I have been offered a deal or reduced price if I purchase more items. As a sales associate you are also told to greet customers right away, and if there is commission you will often repeatedly follow up with customers to try to make a sale. I have been in stores where sales associates have been just as, if not more pushy or aggressive than anything I have encountered in the Medina. Really at the end of the day they’re both just doing their job.

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