Prior to visiting Morocco I did a cursory study on local customs and etiquette, and made note of the usual scams and hustles to be wary of when aimlessly wandering around a new city as I like to do. Most are the obvious; Keep your wallet in front and zipped up, agree on a fare before the taxi shifts into drive, and be suspicious of commotion caused around you or directed at you – as it could be a distraction.
A few tourists have had less then stellar experiences, but if you were to pore over those internet accounts you’d imagine yourself backed into an dead end alley with dozens of kids grabbing at your wallet while emptying your pockets and cutting your camera off your neck. I chuckled at Rick Steve’s guidebook describing Spain daytrippers to Tangiers appearing “like hostages, clutching their bags and big purses in front of them.”
That said each city has its own unique minor warnings. Morocco is a very safe country, and crime against tourists and travrlers is minimal and mostly opportunistic. One of these hustles involve the ease of getting lost. Even for the geographically skilled the streets and alleys of Marrakesh can prove confusing, with literally mazes of streets leading to forks and dead ends. If you make time it can be fun to explore, but if you’re trying to get home or be somewhere you’re best served to leave a trail of mental breadcrumbs. To get to my Riad I had a list of checkpoints, including a large mosque and this restaurant sign I called the “McDonald’s” sign because it had a large M in the center.
My first jaunt out I saw a sign for a cafe on a main street, followed it around some corners and found myself peering into a lady’s kitchen, thinking it was the restaurant. She pointed me in the right direction, but I found it closed. Retreating back down the alley that same lady asked if she could cook me something. Obviously my tourist dollars were a goal, but the gesture was memorable. After all I don’t think she’d invite just anyone into her home.
Getting lost however proves an opportunistic scam for some, a popular trick being to act as a guide to help you to your hotel or location, then leading you in circles or extra blocks for more money. It’s best to turn down offers of help when you’re studying and rotating your map. When a local’s directions are a must, the solution to this is to ask people in a store, or one who’s behind a counter or stall, thus having no incentive to misguide you.
While walking to the central market and back daily I passed by a restaurant and one morning stopped in for a bottle of water. One younger gentleman in particular spoke English well, and I liked the food, so I wound up returning two more times for lunch and dinner. During a late lunch we were chatting and I was showing him some photos on my camera screen. He recognized a nondescript man pushing a bike – then explained to me he was an undercover officer, patrolling to watch for any shenanigans against tourists. Obviously the city has an incentive to keep tourists safe from scams, but this was above and beyond in my opinion.
I can only recall one single instance, in the souk, where after declining to view some wares the salesperson followed me longer than I cared for. I switched my polite pleasantries to a firm “NO” and that was the end of it. One annoying instance out of hours and hours among vendors, but easier to escape him than leave a car dealership here in the U.S.
I wouldn’t say all the warnings I read go overboard, but excessive worrying and reading can taint a city’s image and the way you approach it. I met plenty of friendly locals and had a great introduction to the city during dinner with a local. More to come…