• Donna

The Secret to Staying Sane in a Crazy Market

Updated: Dec 31, 2018

Keeping your cool and staying conscious in the market madhouses of the world.


As a traveler in someone else’s culture, I have a tendency to want to give off the best impression of Americans that I can, because -- guess what?! -- we have a reputation for being obnoxious, entitled, and self-centered!


But do not fear, Americans, for there is a new wave of American traveler on the rise--with a reputation for being genuine, respectful, and self-aware!


I like to think that I am a part of this group. And there is a surefire way of proving that fact, of proving which kind of traveler anyone is for that matter, and that is to assess: how do you interact with people in the souk?


About to enter our first market street! This one is in Tangier.

The souk or bazaar (or other place-specific term for the bustling market in a tourist destination) is like a cat-walk, where different nationalities strut their stuff and show what they’re made of. Hundreds of vendors all vying for your attention and what’s in your pocketbook. You against an ocean of colors, textures, hand-crafted goods, imported goods, produce, animal carcasses, stray cats, and so many people! And they are all using their proficient powers of persuasion to get you to spend your revered travel fund on something you didn’t know or think you needed, until you met them!


How do you keep your cool? How do you enjoy yourself despite this pressure?


The most important thing to remember is that this act of shopkeeping, whether it’s a tray of sunglasses on the curb or jewelry in a fancy store, is a person’s livelihood. They aren’t standing in the hot sun or the restless market stalls all day rounding up tourists to come into their shop just for fun. Sales at their shop equate to having enough money for food, transportation, and much needed repairs on their house (which is possibly older than the United States itself).

The most important thing that you can remember is that this is a human being making a life for themselves and their family.


Trying on a djellaba (did not buy)

Keeping this at the forefront of your mind does not mean you have to buy something from every shopkeeper that succeeds in engaging you. But it does mean that you are more likely to treat that person with dignity and respect in your polite refusal.


And one refusal is usually never enough, which is okay. Sometimes my walk down a street is a chorus of Lak Shokran, Lak Shokran, Lak Shokran ('no thank you' in Arabic). But always with a smile and a wave. Believe me, you have time to give people a smile and a wave. Walking by a merchant who is trying to get your attention as if they didn’t exist is so belittling, not only to the merchant but to yourself.


Always remember, no matter how long you have been chatting for, you have the power to say no thank you, and walk away.


For that matter, saying 'no thank you' in the spoken language of whatever country you are in carries far more power than saying it in English. Have you ever noticed that it's easier to tell someone "I love you" in a different language than your own? It's because the phrase carries less weight coming out of your mouth in a learned language than in your native tongue. The same rule applies to a shopkeeper. Hearing 'no thank you' means less to the Arabic-speaking merchants of Morocco than hearing 'Lak Shokran'.


My friend at the spice shop (I did end up buying some tea)

Remember you are allowed to have fun. You are allowed to look at things, appreciate things, and interact with people. You are allowed to ask questions, share jokes, and make friends, even if you'll never see them again. And you are always allowed to say no thank you, and walk on to the next interaction.


And even the most chilled-out market-goer can reach a breaking point. After 'no thank you-ing' the 50th guy trying to sell you hashish in a day, your mental monologue might go from "no thank you" to "DON'T FRACKIN TALK TO ME". Maybe at this point it's time to head back to your hostel and call it a day.