“Do you need help?”
“What you looking for?”
“I can show you, my friend.”
Around every bend – are there are hundreds of them in the medina of Fez – another sight presents itself. There are old ornate buildings, chaotic souks and steaming stovetops. And amongst them all are the Moroccan touts.
“Let me take you to the tanneries,” a young man says to me unsolicited. He follows me as I walk on. “I am a student and I can give you a good tour.”
It doesn’t really bother me, this constant attention. It is a little bit annoying but it never feels threatening. The guys will follow me for a few minutes normally and I will make some small talk and engage with their questions. But I make it clear right from the start that I’m not interested in a tour or following them to a shop.
They try – fair enough. These guys are not stupid, though. They can tell pretty quickly I am not going to go with them.
I imagine it’s not quite so easy for everyone to brush off the touts quickly, though. I spot some tourists getting quite irate with a young man who is trying to get a job as a guide from them and isn’t taking no for an answer.
I see a group of elderly travellers eventually giving some coins to children who are indefatigably trying to sell them packets of tissues – and they don’t bother to even take the tissues.
Perhaps these Moroccan touts are amateur psychologists and know who to target and how to read reactions. They know when to spend their time pushing for a commission and when to give up because there’s no way it will happen.
So, what is the best way to get rid of the touts in Morocco?
Well, I think there are a few easy strategies to apply. I found they were pretty simple to do and actually made the whole experience less annoying.
- Say no right from the start. Even better, say no before they even begin to start the conversation. It shows that you know why they’re really approaching you.
- Stay calm and treat them like normal people. If they ask where you’re from (which they will), answer them. Engaging in a friendly conversation doesn’t make it more likely they’ll try to harass you. From my experience, it’s the opposite, because they’ll think you’re an aware person and go a bit easy on you.
- Maintain consistency with your refusal to accept their offer (whether it be a tour, taking you to a shop, selling you something). If you show any sign of hesitancy or that you’re actually considering the proposal, it will only strengthen their resolve.
It’s also worth mentioning that it can be useful to do a tour early on with a local who will give you a sense of how to behave in the medina (plus give you some great stories about the most important sites.
If you’re interested in a tour of the Fez medina, have a look at one of these options:
There’s a common trick in the medina of Fez (and many of the other medinas in Morocco) that you’ll come across. It happens to me dozens of times in just one morning of wandering around.
It’s mainly boys who try this trick – teenagers and even younger.
Because the old town is such a maze and you never quite know where an alleyway might take you, they offer this warning as you walk around that the way you’re going is a dead end. Usually, because you probably know no better, you might stop and turn around.
This is the chance for the boys to begin guiding you to where you’re actually trying to get to. If they do take you to the right place, they’ll then expect a bit of money in return. This happened to me on my last trip when I got lost in Marrakech.
I’m better placed on this trip, though, to know it’s a bit of a scam. I quite enjoy telling the boys that I know for a fact that the street is not closed (even if I don’t) and then walking down it and out the other end. Usually they are just lying to try to catch someone unawares.
There are a couple of times when I am left red-faced because the alleyway actually is blocked at the end. When I come back the way I had gone, they just give me a cheeky smile.
These ones weren’t trying to scam me and were actually just being helpful. I feel a bit foolish but that’s the price you pay for trying to avoid unwanted interactions.
There’s only one time during my stay here in Fez when I actually get into a fight. A vendor standing outside his shop starts shouting at me because I’m taking photos.
The funny thing is, I’m actually just taking a photo down the street of nothing in particular. But perhaps he’s had a bad day, perhaps he thinks I’m trying to do something sneaky, or perhaps he’s just sick of all the tourists.
“Why you take photos?” he shouts at me.
“In the morning, it’s photos. In the afternoon, it’s photos. Again tonight, it’ll be photos.”
“How would you like it if people always took photos of you.”
I decide to engage and explain that I’m just photographing the collection of shops. I take a few steps forward so he is behind me but he still keeps shouting. Next thing I know, he’s pulled out his phone and is holding it right in front of my face, taking photos of me.
I don’t really care because I assume he’s just trying to make a point. But, as I walk away, I think about it a bit and I’m left slightly unsettled.
I decide not to walk down that part of the street again today. I think that it’s generally easy to ignore the touts because they’re just trying to earn some legitimate money and, ultimately, if a tourist agrees then they know what they’re getting themselves into.
This, however, is different. When there are emotions involved, there are no rules to follow except to walk away.
It’s lucky there are so many other parts of the Fez medina to capture with my camera. I’ll happily deal with the offers of a tour there.