53

I just got back from a Morocco trip and now have a massive doubt with respect to what it looks like a common behaviour in the Medina (old city).

Whenever we wandered around off the souks and main streets, we were immediately followed, harassed even, by locals continuously saying "That way/street is closed". On a couple of occasions, we even were cornered "asking" for money.

I have maps downloaded onto my phone and could check both in the phone and in real life when we were paying any heed to their advise that these streets weren't closed or led to a back end. Some even claimed that GPS would not work there.

Some of these people were often too keen to help us out on our way to the hostel. One evening, on the way to our riad, one little kid sort of lead the way-- which actually wasn't needed as I knew where we were going--and then asked for money since he had guided us.

On some occasions, when the GPS did not work or the openstreet maps weren't accurate enough, I ventured to ask for directions from some people and they either sent us in the wrong direction or to dead end streets.

Talking to other people in our hostel confirmed this experience wasn't unique to us. Rather, in fact, quite common.

This happened markedly in Marrakech but we also experienced it in Fez and Agadir.

So, my question is, why act like this? Why is it so common, and normal, to mislead and confuse people/tourists?

  • 27
    Just as a tip: when lost in the medina look for shops run by older folk and ask them for directions. Older people are less incline to scam you. – JoErNanO Mar 6 '17 at 18:13
  • 2
    Also if someone guided you someplace and insists upon payment, the quickest way to escape him is to give him a few dirhams (no more than five) and leave despite any protests. – vincenth Mar 6 '17 at 19:44
  • One reason I like traveling alone, and wearing headphones all the time. It seems like it would be less safe, but in my experience it's way safer. No one bothers you. I'm male, though; can't speak to the female experience. – ell Mar 6 '17 at 20:21
  • 5
    SO, so many scams there, unfortunately. People offering to take you to your hotel, then want money, guide you to the wrong restaurant, tell you something Is closed but their friend's shop/hotel is open, it was really frustrating. 75+ countries and Marrakech was easily the most frustrated I've been by this behavior, unfortunately, because I loved the city :( – Mark Mayo Mar 7 '17 at 0:10
  • 1
    I hear this happened a lot in Dunharrow, too, except that there they say, "The way is shut." The tourists there were very frequently harassed or even killed. – reirab Mar 7 '17 at 15:44
61

You are spot-on: the purpose is to mislead and confuse tourists. The "don't go that way, it's closed" technique is a common "scam" you will witness in those Moroccan cities which are commonly targeted by tourists. The idea is to get you to engage with the kind person who is trying to help you. In doing so the person will offer to guide you around and will ask you for a fee at the end. Whilst guiding you they will most probably take you to their friend's shops with whom they most probably share some profit.

I have seen this happen in Marrakech, Rabat, Essaouira and Ouarzazate. I am pretty sure similar things happen elsewhere around the world though.

The best way to deal with this IMHO is to politely decline and from there on completely ignore whomever is trying to scam you. Whilst doing so keep your belongings under control. When I was touring the souks I'd usually keep my money and mobile phone in my front pockets and would never take my hands out of them.

19

I spent a lot of time wandering around the souks of Marrakesh. I ended up staying in the home of a gnawa musician in there for a while. I got scammed into buying a carpet the first day. But I learned how to navigate the souks. Best advice - get a sense of humor. You are a tourist in a tourist zone. Get out of that zone and you will encounter more authentic Moroccan hospitality. But while in the zone - smile and plow forward with confidence - like you know where you are going - even if you don't. Leave your stuff at home. Leave your phone in your pocket. Take very little money with you. The hustlers are trying to steer you to their uncle's carpet shop - in a beautiful cave like abode. And they just want to serve you tea and show you a few carpets. And if you show any reaction, they will pull out dozens more that are sort of like the one that you raised an eyebrow at. If you find yourself in that situation - and you will - down your tea, thank everyone and tell them you have an appointment at the police station. So get in there and just wander about. Get lost. You'll eventually come out one side or another. And who is telling you a path is closed? Is it a young many who has made it his job seems to be to follow you about? Ya, that's an annoying but harmless hustler. Smile and act like you don't understand but and that you do know more or less where you are heading. Another thing you can do...when people ask where you are from? Just smile like you don't understand the question. Keep it a mystery. It's a fun little harmless game. If you get scammed into a buying a carpet you didn't want.... do better next time.

Two caveats - if it was a woman, then you probably should turn back. You might be heading into someone's private court yard where women are cooking or washing. Women will not hustle you. Or, if someone might warn you that you are heading towards the entrance of a small mosque - most mosque are closed to non-muslims. But that guy will have a totally different vibe. He won't be trying to follow you around 'just to practice his english.' (Totally avoid english student guy. He'll burn up your day.)

Another thing you can do - at night in the Jemma El Fnna - find some musicians you like and the pop a squat in the front row. Have a bunch of coins. When they pass the bucket around, you can give a little more than the average Moroccan. You've now just made a dozen or so new friends that will watch you back.

Shopping is really hard. But ff you can spend the time to make some real friends you can have them help you buy a carpet. Even with them at your side... in their friends shop, there will be a long heated debate on what the price should be. It's hilarious. 'How do you expect me to feed my family!?' And on and on... And then you make a deal and everyone smiles and shakes hands.

The one hustler that i really had to tell to fuck off was the guy that hustled me the first day. To him, i was his fish for life.

That is the Moroccan hustle. The US hustle is a $5 cup of coffee at Starbucks. Or some jerk off stepping in front of you so he can catch the next subway or cutting you off on the highway. Moroccan's are very hospitable people. But the rules are different in the tourist zone.

  • You've managed to expand a few lines of actual answer into a wall of text here. Your answer would benefit if you remove all the anecdotes. – pipe Mar 7 '17 at 18:06
  • 8
    @pipe It's not a wall of text; it's just a long answer. – David Richerby Mar 7 '17 at 19:08
  • 3
    Either way, +1 from me for the "That is the Moroccan hustle. The US hustle is...". Many people seem to forget that different cultures have different rules... even though that's probably why we go there in the first place! I'm guilty as the next – josh Mar 7 '17 at 21:22
5

It also originate from the tradition of the Medina themselves. Their plan is not made to be easily comprehensible by foreigners. There are only few ways passing through, and they are never straight. The rest is branching dead-ends. This is to provide some secure and quiet locations(without the traffic) for the people, traditionally grouped by 'clans' or families. And to avoid raids, as the thieves could easily get lost. So you have to be introduced by some local before being able to make business there. This tradition just remained, a bit skewed toward "scaming". But isn't it traditional business?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.