Experiencing Culture through Shopping in Tunisia
Capturing the experience of a tour through Tunisia would not be complete without a few gifts and souvenirs to take home. Shopping in Tunisia offers some of the best of North African culture in it’s historical souks and open markets.
Shopping in the Souk
A “souk” is a marketplace, or a maze of shops. A souk can be indoors or covered, or in an outdoor open area. Most larger cities will have a souk area where you can buy souvenirs and handcrafts. They are usually located in the medinas, or the “old walled city” of the larger city you are visiting. These are fun to wonder through, taking time to not only gaze at all the handcrafts available, but also the architecture and wonderful cultural sights that can be seen in these markets.
The adventurous will want to try their hand at bargaining with locals for goods they are selling. This involves the seller giving an initial price, the buyer lowering that price, and then an exchange of amounts are given till both agree on a final price both are happy with. This is a common practice and can be a fun experience as long as respect for the local Tunisian is remembered. Many locals work hard for their income and are proud to present handmade items that reflect their talent and cultural heritage. If bargaining is not quite your style, or time is an issue, there are many fixed price shops that clearly display the price of items so there is no question involved.
Shopping for Cultural and Traditional Items
Among some of the most sought after cultural items are hand painted pottery and handcrafted carpets. Pottery can be found everywhere in Tunisia. Sizes range from small finger bowls to very large serving dishes. There are a vast range of colors and patterns available to catch the eye of most every traveler. Match a particular kitchen scheme or choose a pattern to decorate any room. Pottery is also a great gift for family and friends back home.
Tunisia is famous for it’s handcrafted carpets. Larger intricate carpets will sell close to a thousand Dinars, (1,000 Dinars = 320 Euro, or $350 US), with smaller carpets or rugs selling for several hundred Dinars. Every kind of design and color is available, with a great carpet shopping experience including being seated on a couch, being given mint tea, and then having many different styles of rugs and carpets being brought out and displayed before you. The experience itself is a show of Tunisian warmth and hospitality.
Off the beaten path of souvenir shopping in medinas is the local markets that take place on different days in different parts of cities. These daily markets are where Tunisians buy everyday items from kitchenware, to hardware, to fresh produce, to second hand clothing. Those seeking a glimpse into the realities of daily life of Tunisians will want to wonder through these markets watching locals interact and bargain and viewing the many items available.
Shopping in any country gives us a view of the life and culture of the people. A Tunisian shopping experience, whether in the colorful maze of an old medina, or in a rustic open daily market, will not disappoint the interested traveler who approaches the experience with an open mind and appreciative heart.