Over fifty years ago shortly after the liberation of French Morocco from France, I was assigned to an air base near Casablanca to command a small squadron of airmen that processed USAF personnel in and out of our military bases in Morocco. One weekend I went into Casablanca with a Major to reconnoiter and visit the Casbah or souk. In those days we were required to be in uniform because a Captain had been killed at a check point at the time of the liberation.
The Major and I stopped for a drink at a sidewalk cafe on a major avenue that afternoon. While we were sipping our drinks and chatting, two Moroccan teenagers speaking broken English approached us and asked us if we were interested in buying some very nice watches for a reasonable price.
We smiled and let them show us some of their handsome merchandise which had been hastily wrapped in tissue paper. Each boy had a brand new gold watch with a shiny gold watch band to show his client. You could not help thinking that the price they were asking confirmed that the watches were either stolen or not working very well. I admired the watch I was given by one of the boys and quietly asked the Major if he felt we were being “ripped off” some way.
“It a very low price to pay and these kids can use the francs,” replied the trusting Major.
I was still hesitant and didn’t need another watch to replace my Omega. The Major handed the watch he had been admiring back to the second lad and pulled our his wallet. When he handed the cheerful lad five francs, the boy presented him with another watch still wrapped in tissue paper. The Major was surprised when he unwrapped the watch to find that he was a victim of a bait and switch maneuver. The second watch was a cheap knock off of a very inexpensive watch.
The irate Major protested to the second lad that he had been tricked, that the watch he wanted was the gold one, the one he had seen and handled. Of course the young lad denied switching the merchandise and put the money in his pocket.
While I was observing what was happening, I held on to the gold watch I have been given to check out. When it was obvious that the Major couldn’t convince the lad to exchange the cheap watch for the gold one, I interrupted their negotiation. I didn’t want to make a scene in that busy pedestrian area full of local people who were watching us.
I offered the Major the gold watch that I was holding and said, “I think this is the gold watch that you wanted, Major.”
He smiled immediately realizing we were back in control of the negotiation. He tried on the watch I gave him and thanked the two boys, “Merci beaucoup!”
The two boys exchanged heated words, but didn’t depart. After some hesitation, the second lad reached into his pocket and produced the gold watch that the Major thought he had purchased. Seeing the watch he wanted, the Major accepted it graciously and gave the cheap watch back to the lad. Then, he handed me the second gold watch that I had “loaned” him.
By this time I no longer wanted to purchase any watch and wondered if the watch the Major had bought would run for a day. I handed the gold watch I had recovered back to the first lad and the two young lads scurried off grumbling. Their honesty proved to me that there definitely was honor among young Moroccan thieves.
A year later when the Major was reassigned back to the United States, he stopped by my office and showed me his gold watch. “Still running and keeping perfect time,” he said smiling. “Pretty good acquisition for five francs!”