I have a lot of great things to say about Morocco, and I’ll get to those soon. Today, though, I’m going to talk about an insane part of the culture that can be found everywhere from Tangier to Marakkech: the hustle.
As a visitor who doesn’t speak the language, I’m only really able to interact with a small percentage of the population. Of those people I interacted with, I’d say that a good ninety percent of them are full fledged hustlers.
What do I mean by hustlers? I mean people who are hell bent on getting money from you, whether it’s through lying, aggressive salesmanship, or cheating. They don’t cross that fine line from cheating to stealing, though.
The biggest scam is the outright price change. We became so used to this one that as shocking as it was the first time it happened, we had come to expect it by the end. Here’s a real life example of how it works:
The Price Bump
Determined to ride camels in the desert, we hired a taxi driver to take us seven hours south of Fez to the edge of the desert. On the way we made phone calls to different tour companies and arranged for a one night camel ride into the desert, including lodging, food, and return by minibus to Marrakech the next day. Already brutally familiar with the Price Bump, we three times clearly articulated how much we were to pay, 300 Dirhams each, and what we were to receive.We got to the desert and were met by a friendly man from the tour company who we had been in touch with. Moroccans are genuinely warm and friendly, even the hustlers, and he was no exception. We had a great time in the desert, and after breakfast the next day the man from the tour company came to see us.
“Do you need a bus to Marrakech? 350 Dirhams each.”
Yes, he was trying to charge us more for the bus that was supposed to be included already than we had agreed to pay for the entire tour. It was the only bus to Marrakech that day and was leaving in fifteen minutes.
How do you deal with the Price Bump? The only way to win is to refuse to give a single dirham more. When you show your surprise at the new price, the hustler will always try to act compassionate and bring the price down a bit, trying to get you to renegotiate.
I’d fallen for it the first couple times (orange juice salesman are ruthless), but I’d had enough. I made it very clear that not only was I not going to pay any more than we’d already agreed, but that I also wasn’t going to leave until he put me on a bus. I kept my feet planted and my money in my pocket.
He finally relented and let us on the bus with a smile.
Super Aggressive Salesmen
It sometimes seems like everyone in Morocco is either selling something or is acting as an agent for someone selling something. “Need hash? Get high before you fly” may as well be a national slogan. I don’t care where point A and B are; traveling between them will absolutely result in someone following you, belting out some sort of sales pitch.
If you make the mistake of actually talking to one of the would-be salesmen, he won’t leave until you get where you’re going, and often times will follow you inside.
The salesmen in shops are brutal. They’ll try to make you articulate which of their wares you like best, even if you say you’re not interested, and start the bargaining shortly after. They’ll tell you that even if you’re a poor student who doesn’t have any need for a fine wool rug, you should buy five to sell back at home.
The key to dealing with aggressive salesmen is to first realize that you’re under no obligation to buy anything, whether they approach you or you go into their store. Ignoring people who approach you, even if it’s with friendly conversation, is the only way to stave off the roaming touts.
By the end of the trip I’d started to like the bargaining battlefield and even the bait and switch price gouging. It was offensive, but somehow perversely satisfying to stand my ground and win. The casualty of being jaded, which is the only way to cope with the hustle, is that you miss out on meeting the really amazing friendly Moroccans.
In the beginning we’d talk to everyone who stopped us to ask where we were from. Ninety percent would then pester us relentlessly about something or other, but the remaining ten percent became our friends: people who showed us around Morocco, shared its stories, and became familiar faces around the Medina.
I’d recommend that everyone visit Morocco. It’s very different from Western culture, has a lot of great historic things to see, and truly has the best orange juice in the world. But be prepared for the hustle– we weren’t.