first of all, i hate to call this "art", but it's the term most used, so i'll just roll with it.
secondly, i know most people in morocco and in the world are good people, but when traveling to very touristic places, you will most likely have to deal with some level of tourist trap at some point, and it just so happens that in morocco (and some other arabic countries, i assume), this is the most common type you'll see.
with that said, there are thousands of articles and warnings about the scammers in morocco, but most of them are pretty vague, just warning you to beware of them, or saying "don't accept random help, as they might ask for money afterwards", or even suggesting how much to "tip" them when you fall for one, or deliberately decide to use one (i'd say some 10-20 dirham).. so i decided to be more specific, talking about the actual lines they might use, and how to deal with them..
how to spot scam artists
these guys are good. they're experts on what they're doing. they know exactly how to spot their target and how to lure them. trust me, you get distracted for a second and you might find yourself already knee deep in an uncomfortable situation.
the rule of thumb is simple: if someone just spontaneously out of the blue offers you information, most likely, it's one of them.
here are some things you might hear (remember in these situations you did NOT ask for any info):
- "hey, the tanneries? are you looking for the tanneries? they're that way."
they will be probably pointing to a side street where there are no tourists. you might be in one of the main streets, just going with the flow, but it sounds like a good idea to take a little shortcut and get to (fill the blank) before all those tourists, right? WRONG.
as soon as you take that turn, the scammer will be right there with you.. "here, come, i'll show you how to get there, no worries." - get rid of him immediately or he has you.
the idea here is that they will take you through the small streets to make you feel like you would never be able to go to wherever they're taking you without their help. but most likely, if you stayed in the main streets you would've gotten there way before anyway.
you can just follow the signs to most main attractions, or even just really go with the flow.
- "hey, where are you from?"
sounds very simple, but if you answer, they will say something in your native language (they know something in ALL major languages.. and many minor ones!), you'll laugh and be pleasantly surprised, and they won't leave your side until you practically have to physically shake them off. all they need is a hint of communication and this is their most used bait.
you might think, if you make one of those mistakes and end up being "forcefully guided" by them, that you can just tell them right away that you're not interested, or that you're not going to pay them, and then you're free, right? unfortunately, not really. not at all.
once you've responded to their first interaction, their goal is to calm you down and assure you that they're honest people, just helping you out. that's when they'll say "i'm not a guide, i'm an honest worker", "i'm just a student, i live right there", "i don't want your money, you think all moroccans are trying to take your money, but we're good people too" (wouldn't you feel like an ass now?), and when you talk about how you're not planning to pay them, they might even pretend they're insulted, with "c'mon my friend, don't talk to me like that, i'm here trying to help and you come talking about money?" (yeah, definitely an ass!)... anyway, something along those lines, or a combination of them.
also, they might just walk ahead of you, every now and then pointing to some seemingly unimportant place, and then giving some (unsolicited) vague "not-on-the-guide-books" information. mostly inaccurate. if you've come this far and can't get rid of them, you might try completely ignoring them. but they won't give up easily.
when there's any fork on the road (so to speak), they will insist on pointing you to the "right" direction, which may or may not be correct. but they have nothing to lose. if you go their way, they count it as them guiding you and then you owe them. if you take the other way and that's the right one, they will follow you, get ahead of you again and then repeat the attempt. if you take the other way and it's a dead end, you'll come back a little embarrassed and take the other way, but at least you can say you were not following them.
in this situation, him and/or other fellows (they help each other) might say that "this street is closed, you have to go there", "this is a dead end", or even try to block your way and say "you can't go through here". if this is happening right when they're trying to persuade you to follow them, there's a pretty good chance that's the way you should go. worked with me like 70% of the times! every now and then it will be a dead end, but hey, you tried!
dealing with scammers
so what can you do to avoid this situation? well, it might sound harsh, but my first and most important recommendation is don't interact with them. if they say "good morning" or "good afternoon", say it back, and end it there. because if they are scammers, the next thing they'll ask is "where are you from?", or "are you looking for a restaurant?", or "are you trying to find the mosque?", and now you know what happens from there.
so right out of the gate (no pun intended), the way to avoid them is not to make eye contact, show them the palm of your hand and, if you want to talk to them, you say a firm "NO!", and keep walking. no more exchange of words. they might insist for a little bit, but if you stay your course, you'll be free, at least until the next one comes around.
they might take offense (of pretend to) and start saying you're a bad person, or that you don't like moroccans, etc. ignore it. you didn't do anything wrong. just think like this: if you're in your city, you see a confused tourist, you offer help and they ignore it, would you follow them and insist for 15 minutes until they accept your help, or just shrug your shoulders and let them go?
some articles say "don't look lost" and "don't ask for directions". well, the medina in fes has over nine thousand streets. try not to look lost there. yeah, it's pretty impossible... i recommend you stick to the main busy streets, they will take you to most of the places you want to see anyway, and also, as i've mentioned before, there are signs indicating where most of the important sights are.. it might take a while, but you will get there..
i want to clarify that i did not feel threatened at any moment. it's a hassle and it's uncomfortable, but i think in the vast majority of the cases, it ends there. of course, they're super friendly at first, and they might get a bit cranky when you shoo them away, but it's when it's time to close the deal and get your money that they might sound a little more intense. and most tourists in that situation will feel intimidated and drop some coin, but i'm not in any way stating that you're in danger by dealing with them in any other way. i'm also not saying that you're not. i honestly don't have this knowledge.
and this is it, my little (long) guide to scammers in morocco. i'm sure it applies to many other countries, and possibly cultures, so i hope some first time travelers to these places will find this article and make use of it.. and i'd love to get some feedback on it as well..