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Classic scam with a twist

Cambridge, United...
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Classic scam with a twist

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.

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1. Re: Classic scam with a twist

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Castril De La Pena...
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2. Re: Classic scam with a twist

I have to laugh, you paid a Moroccan's day's wages (80dh) as a service charge!!!

Best tip, get out of tourist areas, tourist cities and see the real Morocco (and I don't mean Merzouga or Essaouira).

Marin County...
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3. Re: Classic scam with a twist

Like you, we found it hard to go anywhere in the medinas (of Fes and Marrakech, anyway) without someone offering to guide us--whether we wanted a guide or not; and invariably this guide would want to navigate us by some "special" shop. Often, as you found, these people were charming. Also often, which you didn't mention, they could be dismissed with a polite but firm "No, thank you." Especially if this was spoken in Arabic or French.

But also--be aware--we ran into the same two-person scam in Bangkok. So I'd say, in any part of the world were street scams are common, this is something to look out for. (In fact, the scam in Bangkok may have actually involved a *third* person--had we stayed around long enough for it to play out.)

Good warning for the unprepared, though. Thanks for posting!

Cambridge, United...
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4. Re: Classic scam with a twist

Tim, absolutely! It was idiotic. I'm not sure what we were thinking, it was a restaurant recommended in a guide and the food was very good. there was no menu as such, they just did a few dishes which they told you about. At the end, the price was a little higher than we'd expected and we asked for the breakdown and some numbers flashed up on a calculator. It wasn't until a minute after we left that it clicked and we realised we'd been had (although still not a rip off compared to where I'm from, about the price of a beer in places, so it's hard to be really bothered by it, it's mostly pride). I guess for a minute we dropped our guard and felt too embarrassed or tired to fight out corner for about the 10th time that day.

Yes John, it was a restaurant and we've noticed similar experiences since where the price is not the price and there's some attempted extras put into it, like a salad or olives which weren't ordered, and part of the meal in other places - it's far less common though and most restaurants are WYSIWYG.

Marrakech, Morocco
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5. Re: Classic scam with a twist

Interesting to read of your experience, although I wouldnt really call this a 'scam' to be honest - just seems like some guys convinced you to go to their family/friend's shop and you bought some stuff that you wanted anyway - It just a street tout doing his job !

but yes the old 'this road is closed' or ' I'll take you a special shop' is still something to be aware of, so hopefully a few others can read this and be ready for it

Cambridge, United...
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6. Re: Classic scam with a twist

That’s the plan :-) Maybe scam sounds too harsh, there are certainly worse scams. But I still think it’s a scam because it’s mostly based on dishonesty and misdirection. We ended up OK, others do even better out of it, but I think others will also be ripped off.

Gskenney is right that a simple “no thank you” will often work. Sure, with shopkeepers and mostly everyone else, it does. But those impromptu guides can be more insistent. They can be shaken off or ignored, but it takes a little longer and you find yourself “losing” 20 or 30 meters while doing so. There are so many miles of souk to see that this isn’t exactly a significant loss.

We even made a game of spotting them in advance, which I learnt in Indian cities. They start walking about 20 meters in front of you, in the same direction, glancing over their shoulders, and allowing you to catch up before starting the conversation, as if they just noticed you. Before this meeting point we would usually make a quick sojourn down a side street stop to look at a shop or simply slow down to match their pace. It only momentarily throws them off their game.

I don’t mean to be all negative, I will be putting some positive reviews up shortly, Morocco (or at least the tiny bit we've seen) is fascinating. But I just want people to be aware of what they could experience. I say this because it can get to some, especially in the heat. They might find it unexpected and even overwhelming and I don’t want to give a false impression that it’s just the odd nuisance.

Rotterdam, The...
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7. Re: Classic scam with a twist

OP has a vey strong point here. We did come prepared we thought, but - although we never "fell" for any of the scams - no matter how much reading you do before the trip, nothing can prepare you for the impact the real thing can have on you, as mentioned by OP in combination with the heat and being tired. 1,5 week into our trip last year we were ready to fly home early, but found a relaxing safe haven and managed to recuperate and thoroughly enjoy the last week.

After returning home we said we wouldn't want to have missed out on the experience but that we would never go back. And here we are: just 10 months later and we've just booked a last minute long weekend to Chefchaouen! :-)

Marseille, France
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8. Re: Classic scam with a twist

I agree totally with TimCullis. The more time I spent in the bigger cities the more tiring it became. Morocco is indeed a great country to visit. But you really need to get out of the usual tourist circuit to truly find it.

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9. Re: Classic scam with a twist

In my opinion Morocco is not worth the trip or the effort. It's been overly romanticised. I thought it was going to be amazing BUT most of my experience was having the locals working to scam every step I took from blankets to buying a simple orange juice. They tell you one price for the orange juice and then demand double after you drink it. I was scammed with two berber blankets in Fes. I opened them at home and found acrylic. (Also, being from NYC- I felt as though the Old Fes Medina is equivilent to Times Square in NYC for tourists. If Marrakech is worse - which is hard to even imagine - you are better off staying home or choosing another destination).

Morocco is not really all that beautiful considering with every step you see starving kittens, abused donkeys, abused women & children and the stink of human/animal waste. Perhaps the places far from where the tourists can reach easily it's beautiful but after one day in Fes my boyfriend and I wanted to get the hell out of Morocco.

Before going I asked many people about it and most told me of the beauty of Morocco. Maybe I am missing something here, but I really had a hard time getting past the overwhelming poverty, smell, scam artists and just plain gross.

Spain was beautiful. Morocco was gross. Moroc-gross.

Read the post above...do you really want to spend your vacation stepping over starving kittens while the people there try and rip you off every step of the way?

Fes was supposed to be the less touristic destination - it felt to me like the tourist scam capital of the world. The old medina portion that is safe for tourists which is where the locals purposely keep tourist in one area of the medina - where they can offer you the world- rip you off on the price and leave you holding nothing but cheap junk that smells like a donkey.

I believe there is a rich and amazing culture in Morocco somewhere under the feces...but I will NOT be going back to even try to experience this.

Stockholm, Sweden
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10. Re: Classic scam with a twist

Nadine, yes, you was missing not only something there, but much. It is a beautiful country especially outside cities, but even those are nice, if you not stay there too long.

And about so called guides, I remember my first Marrakech - we were arrived quite late because some problem with the car. We were hungry and outside our riad was one, he said he is a student LOL. He said to us he can show us a nice restaurant. Stupid as we were that time we said OK, take us somewhere. Everywhere he took us was some luxury restaurant which we refused to enter. More and more tired we were and at finish I chased him away and we found one wonderful good place almost directly. Since that I never listen to some who says I take you ....

Edited: 04 June 2014, 12:50