Scammed in Morocco – A Tale of Buying Carpets in Fez

Written By: The Planet D

There is a lot to say about Morocco, the guidebooks do a good job of filling you in on how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and see, and generally most of what they tell you is true. But what they don’t stress enough is how easy it is to be scammed in Morocco, especially by the carpet sellers of Fes. 

Scammed in Morocco, A Tale of Two Carpets

Although we spent time in Marrakesh, Meknes, Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier, all with their own brand of charm and interest, it is to Fes that I would return.

For it was in Fès where I had the unique experience of seeing a people who were in complete harmony with today’s modernity and their historical and cultural past.

scammed in morocco
Modern and History Collide in Fes.

Getting to Fès, the second largest city in Morocco, can be a long but interesting journey. 

The roads have been newly paved, so it’s a comfortable ride where you can see the fertile countryside, the many ragtag villages and towns, and the people who watch impassively as you speed by.

On October 21, 2010, I wrote this in my journal:

“Fès, Morocco: This morning I was crushed by throngs of people carrying bags full of groceries, assaulted by smells I could never describe, stepped in several kinds of poo, almost fell into an open pit, had my foot stepped on by a donkey, cried silent tears when I saw the horrific working conditions of the leather tanners, had one of the most  frightening and expensive experiences of my life, and can say without a doubt that I (mostly) loved every minute of it.

The medina in Fès, the oldest in the world, is a living, breathing, labyrinth of a city, enclosed by a wall which limits its physical size but not apparently its population because 500,000 people live within this space.As well as all those people there are mosques, churches, schools, and 90,000 businesses selling everything imaginable and more.  The aisles or streets running through the medina range in width from 2 – 6 ft, and you have to share this space with people, donkeys, mules, wheelbarrows, motorbikes, and anything else brave enough to venture forth.”

My Carpet Experience in Fes

morocco travel sams
Overwhelming Crowds in the Medina

It’s interesting that I don’t mention anything further about that “frightening and expensive experience”, and upon reflection, I think it was just too intense and overwhelming to write about it so soon after it happened.

When you arrive in Morocco you know you must leave your Western ways and assumed certainties behind, but no matter how prepared you think you are, nothing prepares you for the carpet sellers.

Abdul, our tour guide, a pleasant, knowledgeable guy, seemed very western to us, despite wearing a traditional djellaba (caftan) and bernousse (cap).

As he guided us through the medina he gave us a little history lesson and we learned that the narrow, labyrinth street design was a defence against enemy invaders  — anyone entering the medina did so at the risk of never finding their way out.

carpet sellers of morocco are overhwelmubg

As is typical in Morocco, exteriors are plain beyond simple and belie the sumptuous and beautiful interiors — a metaphor for the Muslin belief that all beauty lies within. 

But still, it was a surprise when Abdul led us through a very small door and we found ourselves in a large room with a gorgeous skylight, its walls covered floor to ceiling with carpets.  Within two strides of our entering the room we are introduced to Mohamed, who seemed to appear from nowhere.

In one complete breathe, he asks – “Where are you from?  Do you like Morocco? What are your names?,  he gives orders to the ceiling for mint tea,  and he yells something to the walls in Arabic.  In 4 seconds two people arrive and simultaneously throw carpets at our feet – a cacophony of colour unfurling before our eyes.

Buying a Carpet in Morocco

views of fes

Mohamed scoops up one of the carpets and brings it to my face,  “Can you see the detail in this carpet? 

Four women worked on this carpet at the same time. 

Look! Look at the stitching, one woman went blind while making this carpet.   

If you buy this carpet, you will be helping 1000 people – a whole village!!  Every stitch is done by hand. It is only 6,000!”

I squeek out – 6000 dirhams? ($1,800. Cnd). No, not dirhams, Euros.  6000 Euros!! That’s $8000 Cnd!

By this time we are surrounded by no less than six people, one person is guiding us to walk on the carpets, someone else is serving us tea, two people are continuously throwing carpets at our feet. 

Mohamed is IN MY FACE repeating over and over the value and provenance of the carpets, and Abdul, all pretense of westernism tossed aside, is speaking into my ear – “How much do you want to pay?  4000?  3000? You can trust these people, they have the best carpets in Morocco!!”

Then I am separated from Frank who is immediately engulfed by his own team of carpet sellers.

I blurt out, “How can 1000 people be involved in this carpet – I can’t believe it”.

Their Justification

fes carpet sellers scam

Without missing a beat, Mohamed pushes the carpet back up into my face – “Look at the stitches, look at the colours. 

The four women who made this carpet support eight families, LOOK AT THE STITCHES every one made by hand!!

100 people take care of the sheep, 100 people work the land, 100 people take care of the donkeys, 100 people take the wool from the sheep, 100 people spin the wool, 100 people dye the wool. 

THE WOMEN, THEY GO BLIND MAKING THESE CARPETS!!  And Abdul keeps repeating into my ear – “Buy two carpets, you’ll get a better deal, two is better, yes, two!”

I shout:  “Two!! How much for two?”  From across the room Frank is mouthing the word “TWO??”

I say, “1000!!! We can only afford 1000 Euros.”  Abdul is by my arm and he has switched sides again to support my efforts. 

From the high of 6000 Euros for one carpet, we are haggling over 1000 Euros for two.  Mohamed retrieves Frank who is dragged forward and asked, “What is wrong with your wife, how can I sell two carpets for 1000 Euros. 

It has to be 2000 – I am beggaring myself, think of the blind women, 2000 it must be.”  Frank and I look at each other, acknowledging that we should just give in, so he nods his head in assent and is immediately whisked off by Mohamed to pay.

Stuck with an Overpriced Carpet

moroccan carpet at home cat walking
Our Grand Cat on our New Carpet

Within seconds, someone we have not seen before takes over the circus and with one flick of his hand, two young men emerge with lengths of rope in their hands.  I’m thinking, “OMG! They’re going to tie me up.”

Our two carpets, both approximately 3ft x 10ft, are expertly rolled and tied up into two 10” x 20” packages by the rope guys. 

Again, a flick of the wrist and an old man with a large black marker in his hand appears.  He politely asks my name and writes it on the packages in perfect calligraphy.

And it came to me that Mohamed’s ancestors probably sold carpets along the Silk Road, and that every person in the room was part of his tribe including Abdul. 

Their actions were so practiced, precise and aggressive.  Nothing in my past experience prepared me for this onslaught, at one point I feared we would never escape, we would be lost forever in the medina – and possibly thrown down a pit to join the skeletons of those long dead invaders.

How it all ended

We ended up paying 4000 Euros or $6000 Cnd for two carpets, — it turns out it was 2000 Euros per carpet that Mohamed beggared himself for — and we comforted ourselves with the knowledge we improved the lives of a thousand Moroccans. (I wish)

And as the months and the sting of spending $6000 have passed by, whenever we walk on our gorgeous Moroccan carpets, we are filled with nostalgia for more travel.

Do you have a tale to tell where you greatly overpaid for a product on your travels? Have you ever had a scary situation where you felt out of control? Share your stories with us.

This post was originally written by Gail Burgin.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

46 thoughts on “Scammed in Morocco – A Tale of Buying Carpets in Fez”

  1. You paid 2,000 euro per small kilim? I doubt that each is worth more than a couple hundred euros. As for the money, you can be sure that 95% of the price went into the pocket of the shopkeeper who ripped you off. There is no way he will give the people who made the kilim more than what the kilim is worth in Morocco.

    I totally understand how destabilising it can be to be in such a shop. These people are masters in the art of manipulating people, and play on the fact that you have to take a decision quickly, but you were ripped off big time.

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  2. Omg I love this. This literally just happened to me with a man called Mohammed and I called my parents right after and of course they told me I should’ve only paid half of what I did and negotiating takes days…

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  3. hey Dave, I am a student and holds great love for travel. I love to explore other people’s travel experiences and their stories as much as I love to explore new places. Though I never visited Morocco. But after reading this article, I got excited and really want to visit there.

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  4. Most people don’t have a clue… The selling of carpets and rugs are traditionally some of the greatest scams in the history of man. Well, actually the entire money system itself sits atop the mountain of all scams, but rug selling is ranked right up there among the gypsies of snake-oil fairy-tales.

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  5. Lovely information. Morocco is a great place to visit. But after this scammed I am something scare about. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. We just returned from Morocco. We were brought to a high end carpet store, offered the tea, which we declined, and shown a variety of rugs with a description and history of the different types and qualities. We told the owner we had no intention of buying a carpet and he reluctantly acquiesced. We did however lose a little money over a handmade tablecloth. We travel for the experience and enjoy buying a few nice souvenirs and I purchased a beautiful hand painted ceramic teapot and I probably overpaid.

    The Médina is a crazy maze of sights, sounds and smells and it was a great experience. Mostly the people in Morocco were kind, friendly and courteous. It was basically just in the Medinas that the people were aggressive.

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  7. We’ve not gone around Morocco nevertheless either but are really energized to really go so on. We have searched for lots of things also. Largely we usually do not buy such a thing of significance, thus we just wind up cursing ourselves for moving in excess of 10 or even 20 dollars, but irrespective of just how far we’re torn away, it bites manner. It really is almost always a great learning experience and I really like articles in this way because it’s a fantastic reminder for people all. We know exactly what things to anticipate whenever we see that the Medina at Morocco.

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  8. I actually like the way you keep a journal on the road. i have by no means owned a magazine however I assume it’s far a awesome concept to spend money on one before my husband and that i start our trip in January. Being capable of move back and examine approximately your daily experiences on the road is precious!

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  9. Moroccan carpets date back centuries. The tapestry rugs, which were once used for protection against cold weather, are hand woven in several regions of Morocco. The art of rug weaving is passed down from generation to generation, carrying on a thousand-year-old tradition. Rugs from different regions of Morocco vary in style as artisans include local folklore, symbolism and weaving techniques into their rug designs. Before purchasing a Moroccan rug, it is important to evaluate its quality, weave and durability. Use these tips to buy a Moroccan carpet.

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  10. je suis un marocain qui habite a casablanca et apres que j ai lu votre blog vraiment j ai decouvert que je connais rien de mon pays
    j nadmire boucoup, cette belle oportunite et je vous felicite pour ce travail extraordinaire
    bonne continuation.
    Translation:
    I am a Moroccan who lives in Casablanca and after I read your blog really I discovered that I know nothing of my country
    This beautiful oportunity and I congratulate you for this extraordinary work good continuation

    Reply
  11. We just returned from Fes…also proud new owners of a carpet. It has not arrived yet, should get here right before Christmas 🙂

    Yes the sellers are aggressive for sure…as soon as you even look interested the pitch begins…..ours started by saying he would give us a great deal on 2 before the first price on 1 was even mentioned. We quickly assured him we would not be buying 2.

    We ended up getting a 10 by 6.5 ft for 1900 euros plus 200 for shipping and insurance. We will also have to pay duty on it when it arrives I’m sure.

    We probably could have done a little better if we had more time, but we had to leave.

    More than we intended to spend for sure ( we didn’t really go on vacation planning to buy a rug ) but in the end our attitude is, as long as you are happy getting what you got for what you paid, it’s all good. Considering that some of the carpet stores here charge over double, I think we did all right.

    As you said, Fes is an experience for sure…..

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    • 1,900 euro is a gigantic sum of money for a kilim this size in Morocco, unless you go to a high end shop selling rare antique rugs.

      An important tip: NEVER tell the sellers you are from the U.S.. They will instantly quadruple the prices they ask as compared to European tourists. American tourists have the reputation of being very gullible and rich. Tell them you are from the U.K..

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  12. We bought a Jade figurine in China, and after selecting the piece we wanted from the models displayed, the sales clerk said she would take it back and wrap it up for us. When she came back, she had a silk-covered box, and the figurine inside was swathed in many layers of padded paper. When we got home and unwrapped it, we discovered the piece they wrapped up was slightly smaller than the piece we picked out from their display, and should have cost less than the $500 we paid for it.

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    • ooh, that’s a bummer. Hindsight is 20/20 but while it is happening, you just don’t see it. We’ve had things happen to us like that as well. Live and learn is all we can do. It sucks though.

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  13. YIKES that is a tough situation! I am a huge pushover and suck at bargaining so I would of probably walked out of there with 6 carpets!

    I really like how you keep a journal on the road. I have never owned a journal but I think it is a great idea to invest in one before my husband and I start our trip in January. Being able to go back and read about your daily experiences on the road is invaluable!

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    • Meg, i used my little ipod as my journal. i also downloaded a little app that allowed me to view pdf files, so i kept all our reservations and other travel details in one place. i found myself writing every night and it was surprising to me how useful it was to capture impressions rather than specific details. our photos were the compendium and my journal was the perfect companion piece.

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  14. I can’t believe you gave in and bought them!

    For 4k, I would have insisted on owning the shop and their homes!

    Well, at least you have some beautiful rugs…

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    • I have to say that I agree Sanny, but then again sometimes these situations can be veery overwhelming and people aren’t thinking straight when under that kind of pressure. It is brave to share the story with everyone to warn other travellers about the experience. Cheers.

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    • Sanny, looking back it does seem unbelievable, especially if you knew how extensively we’ve travelled (my husband even lived in India for 3 years). I think it was a combination of sensory deprivation (all external stimuli was abnormal/unfamiliar) and an underlying sense of danger that created the perfect storm for our carpet adventure. But have no regrets — and would love to return to Fes and Morocco.

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  15. I love your story, it made me smile. Fes, medina the largest medina in Morocco can be confusing to navigate and therefore guide is highly recommend it to walk you through the maze of narrow alleyways, cobbled streets. Walking through the streets it feels as you have step back in time except the satellite dishes that suggest that perhaps indeed you are in 21st century. The variety of produce that you can buy from the souks from the pile of spices, sweets that you can not even see as they being attack by hordes of bees, goats brain, tongues… The list is endless and it all mixes into this strange smell. Fes is fascinating and unique city. But unfortunately you have to come prepare to Fes. If you hiring a guide, please make sure that is is someone reputable and will not walk you store to store. If you are walking in the medina be firm to the people offering you guiding services, taking you to restaurants or anything else. Everyone and anyone seems to get part of the money you spend. Therefore they all work in union to get you spend as much you can.

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    • Great Advice Jana, thanks for reiterating to come prepared and to be firm. It is important. We all want to be nice, but sometimes it is the being nice that allows us to be taken advantage of. We cannot wait to go to Morocco. I hope that we can fit it into our travel plans soon!

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  16. What a wonderful account of Morocco. Your descriptions are fantastic, I feel like I came along for the trip! I remember a similar experience in Turkey. We were walking along a street in Selcuk when a man inside a carpet shop invited us in to take a look. He tried to get us interested in something, but the moment I heard the prices ($500 USD+) we had to leave the shop…as beautiful as the rugs were and as wonderful as it would have been to buy one, my travel budget wouldn’t allow it. I haggled and bought a ceramic vase for $20 from the place next door!

    Thanks for sharing your story! I loved it.

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    • Hey Gaby, $20 is a about our budget too. We have so many amazing things from around the world for about $20 bucks:-) They aren’t a rug, but we enjoy having them as reminders of where we’ve been.

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    • Hi Gaby: Believe me, our travel budget never included carpets, never mind the $6000. And we were surprised they took American Express. There was a moment when we were hoping AMEX would turn down the transaction — our AMEX history was mostly for modest purchases. We borrowed from our line of credit to pay the AMEX bill and never looked back.

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  17. Have to agree with Fes being the most wonderful of Moroccan cities and the tannery is an experience in itself.

    I have probably paid a little over the odds once or twice but like you also feel it is probably appropriate when the traders are looking after large families in basically abject poverty, but I do always bear in midn they would not leave themselves short ever.

    If they are too greedy however and start with an insulting price I walk away there is always another shop around the corner. In Marrakech a trader started at 920 Dh for a djellaba I took it off and walked away, he did not give up however asked me how much I would pay. I politely informed him it was now beyond negotiation he had not been respectful and it was not how friends which he kept referring to me as treated each other.

    However he jumped out on me at least five more times during my tour around the souks each time the starting price had dropped, but I remained firm. Eventually i bought a djeballa the next day for 120 Dh, even the owner of my Riad was impressed.

    I enjoy haggling as long as it is polite, respectful and enjoyable for both parties.

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    • Agreed Iain. We enjoy haggling, but when they start so high that it is inappropriate, we walk away as well. I don’t mind cutting the price in half and having friendly banter, but when someone asks a ridiculous price thinking that they can get me to part with my hard earned money, we give a little chuckle and tell them we’re moving on. Good for you for sticking to your guns and then coming back the next day. it is important to be respectful both ways.

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  18. This brought back such memories! The ex and I had a very similar experience some years back, though I think that there seemed to be less people involved! The ex was convinced that there was something “extra” in the mint tea, because he reckoned he could barter with anyone and get the best of it! My best part, however, was when the guide took us to buy kaftans and to the herbalists …. I could have spent fortunes in both places!

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    • So did you end up buying a rug? It is amazing how that little cup of tea can make you lose all judgement. We’ve been there too, people are so nice and so good at their jobs, it is easy to get talked into buying something. It’s tough to stay strong sometimes.

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  19. Hi Guys,
    We publish the most widely read site on Fez and Morocco (around 2000 visitors each day) and we loved your cautionary tale about carpets. We would love permission to publish an extract (with a link back to your site, of course). It would be good to also know a little more about you!

    Cheers

    Sandy & Suzanna
    The View from Fez

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    • Cheers Sandy and Suzanna. you can contact us through our contact page for to discuss further. Thanks for asking, we appreciate you leaving the message.

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    • I bought a run in Tangier Feb 1, 2013 for $2600. I was told it would take 7 wks to transport to Dallas. When it arrived, I saw that it actually shipped from Casablanca on March 28, arriving here April 1!! My first thought was that I had been ripped off with them replacing the actual purchased rug with one they made, probably of lower quality. Have you ever heard of this practice?

      I did not claim the rug, now, it’s on its way back to the merchant in Tangier or Casablanca (they have shops in both cities). Hope I did the right thing – any thoughts? Thanks for your feedback.

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  20. Most people think Marrakesh because of the song, but the Fez medina is the jewel of Morocco and as close as one can get to taking a time machine into the middle ages. We loved Fez, deep into the Sahara and the rural areas of Morocco.

    We travel light ( just a small carry-on each) and have been traveling the world non-stop for the last 6 years ( 42 countries on 5 continents) on just 23 dollars a day per person, so we don’t buy much. Our focus is on experience.

    We mostly shop with our eyes and take photos. We loved watching the many hand-made crafts being so artfully done in Morocco, but only bought a traditional outfit and leather shoes for our 6 year old world traveler to remember our stay.

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  21. I love haggling as much as any shopper, and have picked up some great bargains around the world, but I know better than to step inside any carpet shop anywhere…..Abdul may have been claiming to beggar himself, but he likely still made a 1000% markup…

    Another thing I’ve learned is that when I just want to ‘window shop’ and don’t intend to buy (or get strong-armed into buying) something I don’t need, then I only take the minimum amount of cash I need to get a cold drink and a cab back to my hotel…..shopkeepers don’t bother with me once they find out I have no way to pay! 🙂

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    • I think you are right Trisha, that sounds like he made a pretty penny that day. We have done your recommendation before as well. Whenever we walk through a market, we don’t carry much cash and sometimes just keep a bit of cash stuffed in a pocket and don’t carry any bags. When people are being too aggressive, we simply way we don’t have any money on us. Sorry:)

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  22. Oddly enough my story also includes carpet. On a trip to Beijing a few years ago, I made the mistake of telling our driver that I was in the flooring business in the States. “Oh…well I must show you a place on our return” he says. We stop at shop and inside were thousands of silk carpets. Immediately I was bombarded by the owners of the shop, attempting to get me to purchase (and have them ship home) a 9×12′ area rug for $8000. After many attempts to simply leave, I soon realized there was no way I was leaving without buying something. Finally, I was shown a 3×5 rug and managed to haggle the price down to $450. It was a good price for a silk rug for sure, but being in the business, the last thing I needed was another area rug….

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    • Wow, that’s a good lesson for all of us. Never tell anyone your in the flooring business:-) But you are so right, many times when you give a little bit of information, people exploit it and see how can take advantage. Luckily you only got away with $450. At least you know what is good quality. We don’t have a clue what is quality and what isn’t. If we spent a good chunk of cash on something, we could be getting a product that is completely useless without even knowing.

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    • to world of deej: the most interesting thing about our carpet experience is not that we learned to become good hagglers, but that in the overwhelming process of the sell, we didn’t really get a good look at the carpets. i know this sounds very naive and quite stupid, something neither of us are, however it wasn’t until we got home that we were able to appreciate the real beauty of the carpets and the artistry that went into making them. and every stitch is done by hand. so the real lesson is to really look at what you are being offered and while doing so block out the chaos around you, it might dispel it enough for you to make a proper decision. i know we overpaid for the carpets, but this doesn’t stop me from lying full length on them, glass of wine in hand, examining with awe the intricate and beautiful work.

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  23. Morocco is definitely high up on my ‘places to visit’ list. Although I’m a bit terrified by these sorts of situations. I am a horrible haggler and had a similar situation to this in India with some very over-priced jewellery. In the end it was all part of the experience and when I wear my bracelet, I think of the exciting adventure of visiting India for the first time and not about how much I paid for my bangle. Great story and love the carpet!

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    • We haven’t been to Morocco yet either, but ware very excited to go soon. We’ve overpaid for many things as well. Mostly we don’t buy anything of value, so we only end up cursing ourselves for going over 10 or 20 bucks, but no matter how much we are ripped off, it stings either way. It’s always a good learning experience and I love posts like this because it is a good reminder for us all. We now know what to expect when we visit the Medinas in Morocco.

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