Casablanca wasn’t as touristy as Tom and I were expecting. Walking around the city consisted of two very white people trying to blend in with a sea of locals, but instead getting in the way of their daily routine. A man in a grey suit passed us in a hurry and when he saw us he paused, saying hello. Up to this point none of the attention we had received had ended in any verbal interaction. Seeing how confused we were, he clarified that he worked at the hotel we were staying in and that he had seen us at breakfast. He continued to explain that his father ran the hotel we were staying at. Once the conversation felt to be closing, he asked what our plans were for the afternoon. He suggested we check out a special market where women travelled all the way from the Atlas Mountains with their products to sell once every few months. Curious, I asked for directions to this place, but his explanation sounded very complicated. He kindly offered to show us the way.
It was a long walk past other markets, the type where every stall looks the same. He explained these “markets” were only selling cheap products that were made in China, nothing authentic. Soon we stopped in front of a building with a couple local teenagers playing with a soccer ball outside, and running away when seeing us coming. The building we were headed towards didn’t look like a market. Seeing our hesitation he explained that we were going into a government building where the event was held. The only words on the building were in Arabic and we nodded and followed his lead.
Inside there was one women ready at the door to greet us, and five men behind her. One of the men took control and said that he would show us around and the woman would make us complimentary tea. The man who showed us the way says his goodbyes and then leaves us for our “tour” of the market. As we rounded the corner we expected to see walls of rugs, scarves, purses, leather and maybe even jewellery, instead we were the only customers and the walls were lined with only huge and expensive looking rugs and tablecloths. There were no women from the Atlas Mountains.
The suspecting knowledge of our situation was in both of our eyes when we received our tea. We knew we were stuck. The expectation to purchase was like a thick fog around us. The only exit was the one we came in, and it was blocked by one of the men whist the woman was serving us. The man explained that the rugs took multiple months to make and that we had no obligation of buying, he just wanted to inform us how they were made and the materials that the women had used. We played along cautiously and I was asked to choose my top three favourite pieces.
Once I had chosen my favourites he listed his prices for each in the local currency of dirham, 12600, 6700, and 4600 which equates about 1666, 886 and 608 in Canadian dollars. The prices were extortion, and almost hilarious to two budget minded travellers.
He insisted that I haggle the price down on my favourite, which was the 6700 dirham tablecloth. Tom and I glanced at each other warily, not wanting to offend the man by giving him such a low offer. The man explained that he wanted to make a sale, regardless of the price and that it was offensive in his culture not to haggle. I tentatively suggested 1000 dirham compared to the 6700 he originally asked for, hoping he would understand that I truly couldn’t afford it. He immediately came back with 2000 dirham to which I tried to explain that I couldn’t even afford the 1000 in the first place.
We knew then that he had lied about the option to buy. One man was still blocking our only way out. We apologized repetitively, but he started to get angry, saying he needed to make the sale and we had to give our highest possible offer. I stuck with 1000, cursing myself for ever making the offer in the first place and getting caught in this trap. The man wasn’t letting it go and his temper was rising, his motions getting erratic. At this point we felt very unsafe. I ended up forking out the 1000, and then he demanded a sale fee of 100 dirham on top of that. I was so worried we wouldn’t make it out safely that I gave him the extra 100 and the man who had been blocking the door approached us to take my money and wrap the tablecloth. I had just paid 140 Canadian dollars.
We hurried outside without saying goodbye and laughed nervously as we ran down the street, giddy off the adrenaline and trying not to think about how we’d just been ripped off. Back in the safety of our hotel room we realized the man on the street definitely didn’t work at the hotel, and had scoped out the vulnerable tourists standing out like beacons in a crowd of locals. He had tricked us into a building we had to pay to leave. As our nervous laughter died we tried to justify our unfortunate experience as a story to tell, but my pockets felt incredibly empty.