Buying a Carpet in Morocco
In Istanbul I received the following advice: “You cannot trust the weather, the water, or the women.” I suggested adding carpet dealers to the list, which made my host laugh in agreement.
Buying a carpet is a game. Can you spot quality? Are you able to recognize craftsmanship? If not, it is your fault if you are willing to overpay for a mistaking a common product for something exotic. In Istanbul I got caught-up in the atmosphere and bought a carpet for several times what it would have cost me to purchase in the United States. My advice: buy what you like, which applies to Fes as equally as Istanbul.
In Morocco, as everywhere tourists flock, there are people waiting to take advantage of tourists eager to believe they purchased something old and unique. Appealing to this belief is why the carpet in the picture is on a rooftop if Fes: the sun will age it and a tourist will bring it home believing the carpet spent decades traveling with Bedouins. Don’t buy a carpet (or pottery) for age. Buy for beauty and make peace with your purchase.
Antiquities shouldn’t be exported from Morocco, so finding something ancient to take home shouldn’t be your shopping goal. Besides, most products in Morocco can’t be accurately dated. The plate or the carpet you buy may be several decades old, or a few weeks. The style of traditional arts hasn’t changed for centuries. So, buy what you like and negotiate your price as if the product was made last week.
When you tour the medina in Fes, you will be obligated to buy something from the shops you visit. The products in Fes are priced much like food in an airport: you are a trapped consumer. The medina and artisans in Fes should be supported by tourism. They won’t ask you to donate to restoration efforts, but they will sell you a ten dollar blanket for 25. Think Disney land, where the three-dollar flashlight you bought cost ten dollars, but was worth it because of the memory. Some purchases are landmarks to experience, as I think every purchase by a tourist in Fes is. Others, however, should be more planned and based on your personal taste, budget, and style. Shopping at fixed-prices stores in Morocco may lack adventure, but can offer value and save time.
If you want a good deal and plan on making major purchases, try buying in Rabat. I found great deals on Berber carpets, Fasi pottery, and Marrakesh leather products in the medina in Rabat, where tourists are less likely to be pressured into purchases by eager, over-worked guides. Many shops, such as the leather store near the exit of the medina across from Oudaya or the pottery shop outside the medina across from Oudaya, offer high-quality products at fixed prices. Fifty dollars for a pouf may seem a lot at the time, particularly when the shopkeeper won’t budge on price. But, the same product at lesser-quality will be 100 dollars when you get home. Fixed-prices can be a blessing.
Rabat is famous for its own carpet-making artisans. These carpets are expensive and, in my opinion, not as good of quality as Persian carpets. Berber carpets, such as the one in the picture, are made by rural people living in the Rif of Atlas. The deep south is known for its excellent carpets. But, traveling to the source in Morocco doesn’t mean a more trustworthy or cheaper shopping experience. Enjoy the views, buy enough to support the local community, and shop around and around. You’ll be surprised at the deals you can find, whether your on an out-of-the-way trip or closer to home-base in a major urban area.
Do you have a tips on shopping in Morocco? Please leave a comment.