When traveling to any new country, one of the best experiences is simply getting out and about amongst the local people and seeing what daily life is like. Well, in Oman, nothing encompasses this better than visiting the local souq, or open-air marketplace.
Arab souqs (pronounced “suːk”) have been a longheld practice for hundreds of years, originating from caravans that would travel through the desert and set up camp outside of cities to sell their goods. These caravans often brought luxury items, anything from silks to spices to jewelery and even exotic fruits and vegetables. This tradition has continued into present-day Oman, so whether your in Muscat or Nizwa, Salalah or Sohar, here are a few tips to make the most out of your time in an Omani souq.
1. Try something new.
Souqs are fantastic for finding all sorts of new and interesting items, and the best way to experience it is to put yourself out and try something new! Whether it’s trying on a traditional hat or shawl, tasting an unknown spice, smelling the foreign perfumes, or even chewing on a piece of frankincense resin (for renowned health benefits!), many shop owners are excited to share their goods with you. Some may even offer you a cup of tea or coffee wanting simply to share some of the their famous Omani hospitality.
If you find a shop owner that speaks good English, go ahead and ask them about where their product comes from or about the cultural and historical significance of it. Omanis are very proud of their culture and love to share it with interested visitors.
2. Be ready to barter.
In some cultures bartering may be considered disrespectful, but for Omanis bartering is an age-old pastime between shop owner and customers within a souq. Since most of the prices aren’t labeled on the item being sold, an attentive merchant will usually tell you what the asking price is when they see you eyeing something in particular.
A good standard bartering practice is to decide what you are willing to pay secretly, then offer a price lower than that. Often the seller will counter with a higher price than what you offered, but still lower than their original price. Feel free to say if you find the price to be unfair, and expect that they may do the same with you. If your unsure whether the asking price is fair, try looking around for similar vendors and compare prices. This will give you a good idea as to what’s a standard price and assures that nobody is able to increase the price just because you’re a foreigner.
At the end of the day, bartering is an exciting experience that adds to the adventure of shopping in an Omani souq. One last thing to keep in mind however…
3. Don’t be afraid to say “no”.
Nearly every vendor in a souq will be vying for your attention and business, and it can be a little overwhelming at times. Just remember: you don’t need to talk with every person. It’s completely fine to say “hello” to shop owners that are greeting you (particularly if you are of the same gender), but it’s also perfectly acceptable to ignore a shop if it doesn’t have something that interests you. This isn’t considered rude or out of place, and in any souq it can be a necessity to help keep you moving along. If you want to acknowledge someone but still communicate you are not interested, the gesture of putting your right hand over your heart shows a polite “no thank you”.
If you find yourself in a bartering situation where you feel too much pressure to buy, you can use the Arabic phrase “la, shukran” to say “no thank you”. If you still find yourself pressured past that (which is extremely unlikely in Oman), simply thank the vendor for their time and walk away. This can also be used as a bartering strategy, and may convince the vendor to make that one final low price you were hoping for.
Visiting a souq is sure to leave you with a greater appreciation for Omani culture, as well as some great souviners and local goods to boot. Get in touch with one of our travel experts today to plan your trip out for this great shopping and cultural adventure.