Shopping for rugs in Morocco is an experience that can be unbelievably draining on you financially if you are not careful. It DOES NOT matter if you travel to Morocco already knowledgeable and aware of Moroccan sales tactics & techniques. As several guide books about Morocco say – Moroccan sales techniques are generally regarded as among the most sophisticated and effective in the world. More about this will be explained throughout this section. Without a doubt Moroccans are some of the best salespeople in the world – they take business to a different level. Business in Morocco is in part about building relationships with your clients – relationships that are more involved than the typical western business relationship – which is often purely transaction oriented in nature.
The following information is based entirely on personal experience and can of course vary depending on the situation. The first story may be somewhat unique as this probably does not happen to most tourists who visit Morocco. The second story is much more commonplace and would occur to most tourists if they enter a typical Moroccan rug shop.
Depending on the salesman – and all Moroccan rug salesmen I met were men, you may be invited into their home. In the town of Chefchaouen a local resident randomly found us walking on the street and invited us into his home. After spending a day or two with him, we ended up traveling with him to Fes to meet his cousin who owned a rug shop.
Once you get to know your hosts, you will be treated as one of the family. Introductions to their wives and children, and aunts and uncles, parents and brothers and sisters will occur. You may be treated to video footage of weddings and special family gatherings during which you will meet these people “virtually” before you are introduced to them in person in the days to come. The small children of the families were so inviting and eager to get to know the “foreigner” that it is was a joy to play their games and practice English with them.
The family served homemade dinners in which everyone would gather around a large bowl of delicious steaming food and we would all sit together and eat out of this one bowl. Thin bread was always served with these meals and you were expected to eat the meal with this bread. We spent nights talking among ourselves and getting to know our hosts. We slept overnight on their couches and in general we were made to feel like we were a part of the family.
My friend and I found ourselves traveling and sightseeing with one of the rug salesmen – his cousin and one of his workers. They would take us out to lunch – sometimes they would pay for lunch or drinks, and other times we would pay. Over the course of several days we got to know each other better – the generosity was amazing – however, at times it was hard to determine if their openness and kindness was always genuine.
Towards the end of our stay our friends brought us to a government owned cooperative called Dar Zarbia S.A.R.L – PHONE NUMBER: (212-5) 63-68-41. This store will ship rugs anywhere in the world – they usually use DHL as their shipping company. Depending on where you live in the world, shipping can take up to 4 weeks. The salespeople at this cooperative spoke many languages and their English was almost flawless. Tourists from around the world came to this particular rug shop to purchase and send rugs back home. Some were return tourists – and they came to this particular rug shop because of the excellent quality of the rugs sold here as well as the fact that the prices of the rugs are determined by government controls. The price at this cooperative is not based on color or look of the rug but rather based on the type of rug, the age, and how many knots per square area. This cooperative only sells rugs that are less than 100 years of age – anything over 100 years of age is considered an antique and the government forbids the sale of these items.
This cooperative is very difficult to find if you do not have a guide. Its on one of the many streets that to the untrained eye of the typical tourist – all look very similar. Once inside its easy to be impressed by the size of the showroom. There are three stories – and a nice tiled bottom floor which serves as the main center for reviewing and scrutinizing the rugs after they are unrolled. As our friends told us it is best to arrive at this cooperative quite early as the salespeople will have more one on one time for you – early is best because there are no tourists yet. Upon returning to the cooperative later in the day – we found many tourists shopping and the salespeople did not have time for individual inquiries.
When we first entered the showroom we were offered free fruit shakes. This is the only place in the world I have had an avocado milkshake. Its worth a visit to this cooperative just for that! The main salesperson gave us a brief overview of what to look for in a rug. He showed us some of their ‘cheaper’ rugs and said we wouldn’t want those. Then he started pulling out the “super duper” rugs (his words) and several of the workers hauled them out and started unrolling them on the large central floor of the showroom. Each of these rugs were several thousand US dollars. The salesman was so good he effectively created an image in our minds that these rugs were so valuable it would be a “sin” to leave them. As with most of the rug stores we visited they told us two words – words that meant something like “a keeper” and “throw away”. When we saw a rug we liked we spouted out the word for “keep it” and when we saw something we did not like we said the word for get rid of it. After about 45 minutes of looking at rugs a very thick pile of “keepers” had amassed on the showroom floor. These were whittled down to 5 or 6 which almost completely covered the floor.
At this point something called the “Western Guilt Complex” may kick in. You either have it or you don’t. It is a complex where you feel you have to buy something because you have already been given something of value (tangible or otherwise). You are afraid of “stepping on toes” or hurting ones feelings because you have “taken” but haven’t “given”. If you have this syndrome you would have been feeling it in our case because our hosts had been so gracious and friendly up to that point – they had taken us to all the main attractions in Fes plus additional highlights most tourists never see, they had treated us to meals and taken us in like one of their own family members, the salespeople and workers had spent a considerable amount of time and effort moving and unrolling each of the huge rugs – our hosts were helping us bargain down the cost of the shipping against the salespeople of the cooperative, (in fact they had drawn us aside several times for “consultations”), the taste of the excellent shakes lingered in our mouths, & we had just listened to a speech in perfect English about the incredible beauty and value of the rugs. If you have the Western Guilt Complex at about this point, it becomes quite difficult to resist a purchase.
When it came time to say goodbye to our hosts – they asked for small tokens of appreciation so that they could give these to their children. They asked for our watches, shoes, jackets, cell phones, and pants.
The following description is more typical of a visit to a rug shop than the previous story. Upon entering a rug shop you will most likely be greeted by the owner or manager of the store. You will be invited as “guests” of the store to a back room usually covered with rugs and fancy colorful couches which line at least 3 of the 4 walls. Several men or young boys will be sitting around but will be silent. You will be offered a seat and most likely the man will ask you where you are from and introductions will be made.
The always present mint tea will soon thereafter make its appearance. It will be steaming out of a metal coffeepot – and almost always is poured into small glasses. It is consumed when piping hot – it is extremely sweet. This is the “staple” of rug shops in Morocco. While you are drinking this tea you will be given a brief lecture about the difference in quality between rugs and what you should look for while making purchases. You will find out that the rugs in “his town” are the most superior in all of Morocco (reasons will be given for this) and the rugs in his particular shop are the most superior in his town. After the speech you might be thinking this is your lucky day – to have walked into the one rug store that has the most superior unique rugs in all of Morocco! Wow!After the owner has had time to “size you up” you may even be offered a smoke of “kiff” (marijuana) or cigarettes as this is common practice in some of the rug shops. Then the owner will bark an order and the silent men will start pulling out rugs and unrolling them for you to look at. You will have already been briefed on the Arabic words for “yes” and “no” and he will tell you to use these words in conjunction with the wave of the hand to indicate your preference. Once you have chosen several rugs the owner will again bark at the men and the rugs you dislike will immediately disappear. If you show an interest in a certain type of rug or color – the owner barks out again and voila, all of the sudden you now have at your feet great quantities of variations of the rug that you liked. At several of the rug shops, once a few favorites have been chosen the owner always tried to add another rug into your “collection” for your mother. In the rug shops we visited the importance of giving a rug to your mother always came up in conversation regardless of whether your mother likes rugs or not.
The bargaining at the small rug shops usually involved the owner telling you to take some time to think and then write a “fair” price on a piece of paper and then give it back to him. He would preface that by saying the price “should not be a personal insult to himself and his family.”
Depending on the store regardless of whether you buy anything or not – you will probably be asked or pressured into giving the men who unrolled the rugs some money. The owner might take you aside and quietly whisper something like “my men work hard all day and are very poor – you need to give them some money.”
If you don’t plan on buying anything my recommendation is to decline the offer of tea and also the offer of the rug unveilings. Tell him you just want to merely look around. If the the owner continues to insist that you are his guests and that you must sit down with him, simply walk out of his store.