I spent a week in Casablanca in 2019 (Here’s looking at you, kid!) and Marrakech, Morocco. Though unique it did remind me of a place I’d visited years ago – Egypt – in a couple of ways. And it got me back into that “mode”: the hard barter mode, the negotiate-like-a-local mode, the don’t-get-ripped-off-like-a-tourist mode. Here’s what I learned – again! – about the hard barter.

1. The first price is not the real price. Not even close! In Morocco, just about everything is bought through bartering. And I mean serious bartering. A Moroccan salesperson starts with a 75% upcharge, and you’ve gotta go way low to get to a happy meeting place. This can be challenging and even downright intimidating. Especially when you’re just a polite Canadian looking for a price tag. I had my moments of frustration with it – hiding out for an hour in a literal “secret garden” to get away from the hustle. But it’s important to jump into it, to embrace this part of the culture and use it as an opportunity to flex your negotiating muscles. Once I accepted that this was the way of doing business, I was all in (when I was in for it. When I wasn’t, I just didn’t go shopping!).

2. Try. Try again. Try again later.  It takes practice. Remember starting a job and feeling totally useless and insecure in your first week as you followed a manager around and were expected to do things you’d never done before? Looking back a year or two later you could laugh because you’re nailing those tasks every day like it’s second nature. You get better at things. If you keep doing them and keep trying to do them better. In Morocco, first I paid 20 dirhams for a cab ride. A couple days later, when the cab driver pitched 20 dirhams I demanded 10 and threatened to get out of the cab as if he’d just slapped me with a glove and insulted my mother. Then 10 dirhams was fine!

3. Know your #$%!. It also helps to do your research – my handy little Lonely Planet told me the price of a cab in Casablanca should be 10 so I knew it wasn’t unreasonable of me to demand that. Know current fair market value. And get to know the subtle differences through trying it out (in Marrakech, 10 it turns out IS unreasonable to demand).

4. Pay or Walk Away. Get comfortable with walking away when you know it’s not the right deal. This is very literal in Morocco! Walking away could end the negotiation, resulting in no bright turquoise dangly-bead leather slippers for you. Or, it could get the salesperson to relent and meet you at a price you’re both happier with. Yes, I wanted to buy a pair of slippers at the time – but for $45 Canadian?? I stuck with my price (25% of that) and we agreed to disagree. No slippers for me. But I’m glad, because I knew what they were worth to ME. Always have a number in your head, a value and a price you’re willing to pay – PLUS, a flexibility range. If they come back at you with a number close enough to seal the deal, know when to walk away, and know when to shake hands. (Well, usually they don’t shake hands, but don’t take me so literally.)

5. Kill ’em with kindness. Don’t get upset and don’t get aggressive. Kindness is more powerful than many things, and keeps things civil. Sometimes people just BUGGED me too much in Marrakech. It could be incessant, people in your face trying to get you buying or talking – that is, talking to them till you buy. Telling you things you’d be surprised they know about whatever country you’re from so you’re warmed up. (“Hey you’re from Canada? Justin Trudeau! Jim Carrey! Maple Syrup!”) It was always better to say “No merci” than to get mean. There’s the flip side of things there too: Moroccan people will offer you a seat on the train or even the food out of their own stash at any time. Be kind. At home, in town, think about who your neighbours may be!

6. Acclimate. I think you should always be aware of what culture or situation you’re arriving in and recognize what you can do or not do to show respect for it. For instance, in Morocco that meant me covering up my knees and shoulders when I was walking around. Not because I had to, but because it is considerate. We don’t have a ton of nude beaches in Canada, so if an outsider decided to undress on a Toronto beach, it’d be a tad uncomfortable! Understand your region. Negotiation is NOT the same in Canada as it is in Morocco, but it’s also not quite the same in Niagara as it is in Toronto. Different markets and different subcultures dictate different styles and needs. I love how Niagarans work, personally! We are an ethical bunch and we care about our neighbours. Grow accustomed to different styles, though, and build a toolbox for wherever you go.

7. Sometimes you don’t need to barter. Sometimes a cab ride is worth $1; sometimes it’s worth $40. Case in point: My ‘badass’ cab negotiating skills mentioned above worked well for me for 5 days. But after a bout of sickness, on my last day, I needed a seamless and restful ride to the airport – so I agreed to the hotel pitching 300 dirhams, and then at the airport the cabbie said he had no change for my 400. Still, he got my 400 dirhams. That time I shrugged it off. It was worth it to me then, to avoid more stress on my sick body. Pick your battles. There’s more to value than just the dollar amount. (Think about how much that means when you’re talking about a house for your family to live in!)

That’s my 10 dirhams.

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*Statistical information retrieved from the Niagara Association of Realtors May 2020 Market Report.