The cities of Morocco have a reputation for touts, or people who offer you a service you haven’t requested, such as “helping” you find your riad, or in the case of females those making unwanted advances. While there’s no way to completely avoid this, there are some ways to lessen them and prevent too much unwanted attention.
Shopkeepers, restaurants, and some tour keepers are known to have an employee outside of their place of business trying to bring in sales. While it can be obnoxious to be constantly asked if you want to come inside to eat or to buy something, they’re truly just doing what they can to earn a living. It’s very easy to say “no thank you” and walk away.
You’re also bound to run into another kind of tout and this is the much more aggressive and infuriating kind. Young men and sometimes children will offer to show you to your riad, or show you to whatever place it looks like you’re trying to find. They may be very kind and seem like they’re simply doing a good deed – and in some cases they truly are – but once you reach your destination they may ask for payment. Expect to pay them 10-20 dirham but no more. Yes, they may ask for more but the amount quoted is plenty. If they’re young kids, than maybe 5-10 dirham. The majority of young kids aren’t doing this as a way to make money for their family, they’re doing it to go buy snacks or a toy.
What happens if I pay and they ask for more?
Be firm and tell them no. Yes, they may complain or get upset but do not give them more. If the person begins to get hostile or you feel threatened, go to the nearest riad and knock on the door – even if you’re not staying there. The staff can and will help you if you tell them what is happening. Also, much of Marrakech is patrolled by undercover police officers that are there to protect tourists from this type of behavior. You can threaten to involve the police as a final resort and this tends to turn them away.
You may find women in Marrakech who offer to do henna. Many times they’re sitting on stools in the square and will ask however lately we’ve seen more and more walking around and will simply grab your hand and start applying henna. Sometimes they say it’s “free” then demand money when they’re done. We’ve also heard that they are charging insane prices 200-400 dirham for a bad henna job. A really good henna application won’t cost that much. The best way to deal with this is to pull your hand away and tell them no. If enough people do this, then hopefully they will stop. If you really do want it, then pay them but only a very small amount such as 20 dirham.
The final type of tout are those who harass women. In many instances a boy/man will make a comment/compliment in passing and no more. He may try to pick you up. He might directly ask you to have sex. How you handle any of these situations will depend on your personality and level of irritation. In most cases simply ignoring is the best bet. You can expect that the less clothing you have on, the more comments you will receive. Also, many young men have watched a lot of TV and movies and their perception of women from the US or Europe is skewed. For example, they see men pick up women in the movies and then take them home, therefore they assume this is common and why shouldn’t they try to see if the same thing happens for them? While we know movies are not real life, they often don’t have any other frame of reference.
If you’re being harassed beyond a passing remark than you should absolutely respond and tell the person to leave you alone. Again, threaten to involve the police. If they refuse to leave you alone or follow you, than you should find a police officer, even a traffic officer, and let them know what is happening. While it is very annoying to experience this, in 99% of cases there is no physical threat. The majority of men will not touch you. However, if you do engage with them and show them some interest back you can expect the behavior to contine. Ignoring them is really the best avenue. If you’re a woman traveling in Morocco, you can read my tips on travel where I address these issues further.
Strategies for Handling Touts;
- Ignore them
- Decline what they’re selling/asking and walk away
- Pay attention to how you’re dressed, and err on the side of modesty over revealing clothing
- Ask for help if you feel at risk
- Involve the police if needed.
While you most likely will find touts anywhere you go, and while it can put a damper on things try to take things in stride. Saying no isn’t so hard, nor is continuing to walk by. The Moroccan authorities do not take kindly to tourists being harassed so know that should you reach out to the police, they will help you.