This happened in Marrakesh but I'm sure applies to most tourist places. My friend and I are pretty jaded and cynical when it comes to trusting locals but even we were somewhat taken it by this twist on the ubiquitous "that way is closed" trick. I'll lay out the scam and make some comments on it after.
We left our Riad and pretty soon after started talking to a local walking the same way. He gave us some tips for navigating the streets - keep right, be aware of all sorts of traffic etc. He spoke decent English, when he found out I was from England told us about his sister in Bristol etc. Eventually, he explained that Monday in Marrakesh was like our Sunday and the market will be quiet. We should go down another route where we can visit a mosque and see a special berber shop, which are not normally open to the public but are today (can't remember the reason). Then he shook our hands and went off a different route.
Not really knowing where we were, we figured we might as well head into the old city where he pointed, figuring if we find nothing we just head back to our original plan. Some way into the maze of streets, we meet another guy who corroborates the first man's story about Monday etc. He said he'd seen us leaving our riad. As we're walking along, he shows us the mosque, a local bakery and hammam and explains how it all works. In fact, he's a very good guide, with some witty banter to boot. Along the way, a shop keeper tried to harass us, only to be given short shrift by our "friend". Then a girl carrying some dough for the bakery came past, and our guide offered to take it for her, because "she trusts me".
After a while, we happen by the Berber shop and go in while he waits outside. This is where the hard sell starts (although the shop keeper keeps saying there's no pressure). It's the usual play - have some mint tea, then just point out what you're interested in, then we discuss price for all of it and we make a deal or not. Once you've shown a vague interest in some items, they get piled up and he writes down a price and you write a counter offer. There are then 3 rounds of back and forth. Then he calls over the "boss" who reluctantly agrees. After it's all done the clerk who was your "lawyer" asks for a tip.
In the end my friend bought a few things he was after for about half the price asked. I really wasn't fussed with my item and after a lot of pushing by the keeper suggested a price of about 20% of what he asked and in the end agreed on a price about 30% of what he originally offered. I don't think we paid very much over the odds but given how my negotiations went, could probably have paid less. We had planned to buy such items at some point in the trip but I'd rather have looked around first. They obviously know that's not a good thing for this shop.
From our side, we were pretty cynical about the whole thing from the start, but the bit that tricked us was having the first guy say goodbye, which lulled is into thinking that he was actually genuine. My experience in countries like India and Thailand - and later in Morocco - is that the guy who starts the act is the one who takes it through to the end. The second guide corroborating his Monday story also had us for a bit. It wasn't long into the second guide's act that we realised we were being conned. But as I said, the guide was pretty good and informative, so we went along for the ride. We were also impressed with the size of the cast and the coordination behind this act. A lot of effort went into this, almost worth the money we spent as admission to a play.
Some other notes:
- At some point they tried to work out which riad we were from. We avoided answering it enough for them to drop it. To be honest, I couldn't remember it at the time but I wouldn't have told them anyway. My guess is the second guide would have claimed to be from there, which I've heard is a common intro.
- I'm not exaggerating when I say that almost *everyone* seemed to be out to scam us. Every way was closed, and we should head a different way. Every conversation that started friendly went into some sort of sell or misdirection. I can remember a handful of conversations that didn't end that way but they might have just seen that we were wary of it and gave up.
- Ask for a price first everywhere - taxi, restaurant, sweet shop. Apart from buying water, everyone tried to rip us off, without fail. On the odd times we slipped, we got stung with an 80 Dh service charge at a restaurant, paid 30 dh for some sweets, and one taxi driver tried to argue, quite strongly for 50 dh for a 10-20 dh ride (this time we actually held our ground).
Morocco is a lovely place, worth many visits I'm sure, but it's hard work. I don't think any amount of reading can really prepare you for what is to come.