This guy is very clever!
Abdul El Kholtei of Chez Abdul Carpets in Chefchaouen appeared to be a friendly carpet merchant with an amusingly effective sales technique. I happily bought two small carpets from him because I liked this clever family-oriented man. He invited my friend and I to his home for lunch where we met his family. When we told him we were off to Fes in a couple of days, he told us he had business there so we arranged to go all together.
Abdul took the time to learn about our interests. He introduced us to his friends in Fes (Alberto and Mohammed) who could help us. They all used the guise of friendship and hospitality to operate a very clever scam in which we naively bought more carpets, paying way too much. They made arrangements for us so that we were busy and under their watch the entire time we were in Fes. We thought they were great hosts -- we toured so much of the surrounding area, met amazing people, ate well... This 'showing us around to keep us busy' extended to food poisoning so that I was unable to retaliate, if I'd been wise enough to pick up on the scam. It was only once we were leaving Morocco that we realised we had been so gullible. (The carpet merchant involved is Dar Zarbia, Fes.)
Abdul El Kholtei
Rue Hassan I Chefchaouen
(Quass El Hadri no 183)
06 62 11 40 52 and 05 39 98 92 28
Please feel free to warn others and to share this message far and wide.
My wife and I have just returned from four wonderful days in Fez. The city is fascinating and the people are generous, warm and welcoming. Do go, it is a amazing experience.
However, upon leaving the Hotel Merinades one evening and waiting for a taxi we were offered a lift from an eloquent and highly articulate young man (27 years) and his ‘personal driver’ in a Mercedes.
He introduced himself as a Canadian who had purchased a Rhiad in Fez as an investment for his pension and was developing the site into luxury accommodation.
He invited us to view the rhiad next day. We met at 10.30am and he took us for coffee to a smart establishment in the Ville Nouvelle. However, it soon became apparent that he was only interested in taking us to various shops and warehouses. Once we expressed our disinterest in shopping we were ditched on the edge of the Medina miles from our own Dar.
Purely by chance we saw the same man again the next day on the train to Meknes. Once again he was working in a team (2 or possibly even 4 men) this time targeting a single female traveler heavily laden with four suit cases and an expensive lap-top. My wife spoke to the young girl and tried to warn her that her companion may not have been all that he claimed, whilst I approached him and engaged in conversation. Needless to say he pretended that we had never met!
Fez is an ancient and fascinating city, more earthy and real than Marrakech. However, beware articulate, and highly intelligent touts!
If you engage a guide to go through the medina, they might temp you into seeing an "exhibition" of antique carpets woven by women of the surrounding area. You've already told the guide you aren't interested in buying anything, so you think.."well the carpets are pretty so I might as well have a look." WRONG!BEWARE! SCAM! What will happen is that the guide will take you into a shop [for example, Dar Benhayoune 5 Derb Benhayoune but there are lots] and give you a nice tour of the carpets hanging from the walls, with some history thrown in. Then you will sit down for tea. Then they will teach you some arabic/berber words as they start unfolding carpets in front of you, complete with a demonstration of how they can fold a carpet into carry-on size so you can take it on the airplane. All claims of "but I don't want to buy anything " will be dismissed as just showing you the craftmanship. Just google Fes carpet shops and you will get a detailed description of the scam.
Unique Suggestions: Leave before they give you tea! Be persistent, say you are in a hurry, have plans, etc. NEVER name a price as you will be obligated to buy, even if they phrase it like "how much would you pay for this, or how much is it worth? Realize that no matter how nice they are it is a scam, and your guide is in on it. You can also say that you want to buy a carpet DIRECT from the woman who makes it- she is the one who deserves the inflated price, after all.
If your guide tries to get you to go to a restaurant for lunch before or after the carpet shop, make sure you look at the menu first!!! You might think you are getting a local experience, until the bill comes. This happened to us- our lunch was more expensive then our most expensive dinner, and our guide had said it was "reasonable."
Fun Alternatives: You don't really need a guide to the medina in the first place. However, the maps are very confusing and there aren't very many of them. The problem arises when you stop to look at your map and become a sitting target. Maybe an Iphone would be helpful in this situation. This is where guides are helpful- just be sure to get recommendations first, and beware the guides w/o fixed prices- the ones who say "whatever you think is fair."