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Guides, hustlers, conmen and kids

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Armed with this book, you shouldn’t need a guide, but some people like to hire one to negotiate the Medinas of larger cities. Official guides, identified by a large, brass “sheriff’s badge”, can be engaged through tourist offices or large hotels. They charge around 150–200dh for half a day, twice that for a full day, plus sustenance. The rate is for the guide’s time, and can be shared by a group (though you‘d then be expected to give a good tip).

Young Moroccans may also offer their services as unofficial guides, which is illegal, and subject to occasional police clampdowns. Be very careful in making use of unofficial guides. Some are indeed genuine, usually unemployed youths hoping to make a few dirhams by showing tourists around, and they should be cheaper than official guides, less formal, offer a more street-level view, and perhaps show you things that official guides would not – indeed, many tourists end up making lasting friendships with people who‘ve approached them as unofficial guides – but some will be aiming only to get you into shops or hotels which pay them commission, or they may be confidence tricksters. If you do decide to hire an unofficial guide, be sure to fix the rate in advance (make it clear that you know the official rates), as well as the itinerary (so that it does not include shops, for example – this also applies to official guides).

In general, never agree to a guide showing you to a hotel, and never go shopping with a guide, official or otherwise, as they will only take you to places which pay them a commission, meaning a higher bill for you – often as much as fifty percent higher. Hotels that pay commission to guides for bringing tourists to them are also likely to be dubious in other ways. On the other hand, letting someone guide you to a café or restaurant won’t increase the price of a meal (although waiters will generally make a small tip to the guide).

Conmen and scams

Hustlers and conmen have been largely cleaned off the streets, and those who remain are less persistent, but tourists are the obvious target for them. However, it’s important not to treat every Moroccan who approaches you as a hustler – many (though not usually in tourist hot spots) are just trying to be friendly. However, forewarned is forearmed, so a few notes on the most common scams follow:

  • Most hustlers (and guides, official or not) hope to earn money by steering you, sometimes with the most amazing deviousness, into shops that will pay them a commission, most commonly carpet shops where you will be subjected to hours of hard-sell. Never be afraid to walk away from such as situation, even if (as is quite likely) you are then subjected to abuse, and never buy anything from a shop that you are taken to by a guide or hustler.
  • If a hustler guides you into the Medina till you have no idea where you are, and then demands a large fee to take you back out, don’t be afraid to appeal to people in the street, and if you feel genuinely menaced or harassed, threaten to go to the police: hustlers tend to vanish fast at the prospect of police involvement.
  • Hustlers may attach themselves to you using the excuse of a letter (“Could you help translate or write one?”), or by pretending to be someone you have met but forgotten – so if someone you don’t remember says, “Hey, remember me?” it’s probably a hustler trying to practise some scam on you. Another trick is to tell you that a site that you are on your way to visit is closed and that they can show you something else instead, or they may tell you that there is a Berber market taking place and this is the only day of the week to see it. If you ignore these people or turn them down, they may accuse you of being paranoid, angry or racist – and such an accusation is a sure sign that you were right.
  • Con merchants, working alone or in couples, may befriend tourists, and then, after a day or two, tell some sad tale about needing money to get a passport or for a sick relative, or some such.
  • On trains, especially at Tangier, hustlers sometimes pose as porters or railway staff, demanding an extortionate fee for carrying baggage or payment of supplements. Genuine rail staff wear beige overalls and have ID cards, which, if suspicious, you should ask to see.
  • Drivers should beware of hitchhiking hustlers, who spend all day hitching between a pair of towns and can get highly obnoxious in their demands for money when you approach one or other destination. Alternatively, they may wish to thank you for the lift by taking you home for a cup of tea – except that “home” turns out to be a carpet shop, where you are then subjected to hours of hard-sell. A variation on this is the fake breakdown, where people on the road flag down passing tourists and ask them to take a note to a “mechanic”, who turns out to be a carpet salesman. This one is particularly common on the N9 between Marrakesh, Ouarzazate and Zagora, and the N10 between Ouarzazate and Tinerhir.

Dealing with children

In the countryside especially, children may demand a dirham, un cadeau (present) or un stylo (a pen/pencil). Working out your own strategy is all part of the game, but be sure to keep good humour: smile and laugh, or kids can make a serious nuisance of themselves. Faced with begging from children, we recommend not obliging, as this ties them to a begging mentality, and encourages them to harass other visitors.

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