Guide books, merchants and friendly locals all gush about one thing: Moroccan hospitality. What they don’t tell you is that it always comes at a price…
You arrive at your riad and are instantly greeted by your attentive hosts. Forget about checking in, seeing your room, dropping off your luggage, eating lunch (aside from the pastries served with the tea), or even using the bathroom. It’s time for the obligatory pot of mint tea. Is it delicious? Yes. Is it welcome? Yes. But it’s also factored into the room rate.
You step into a carpet shop because the vendor said, “Just take a quick look. I’ll tell you about the different techniques and styles. If you don’t find anything you like, it’s OK. We keep a smile and say have a nice day.” After another helping of “Berber scotch” (the aforementioned mint tea) and hours of what started as a game of affirming and rejecting various carpet selections using your new Arabic vocab words, we’re down to a few pieces and the pressure is on. Before we know it mom’s making a purchase.
You set out in the morning with Marrakech’s Medersa Ben Youssef as your target. On the way there a friendly local asks what you’re looking for. You tell him and he claims that the medersa’s closed because today is a holy day, and that instead the tanneries are the place to be. You hesitate, not knowing if he’s telling you the truth—your riad host didn’t mention anything about today being a holiday. Next thing you know your informant has passed you on to a friend who leads you on a long trek to the tannery district. Upon arrival, you’re passed off yet again, this time to someone who gives you a tannery tour and tells you all about the leather-treating process (spoiler: it involves vats of pigeon droppings) before depositing you in the gift shop. After you’ve successfully haggled down the price of your beautiful new bag, you exit the shop to find your guide waiting for you. He insists that you give him a little something extra.
You’re spending the afternoon as a flâneur in the Rabat casbah when a man comes up to you and asks where you’re from. He starts telling you facts about the casbah and suddenly he’s crossed the line from walking with you to giving you an unsolicited tour. When you tell him that you don’t want what he’s selling and would prefer to explore on your own he makes a big to-do about how you’ve gone and wasted his precious time and can’t you at least give him a present from your country for his trouble?
You just boarded the train from Rabat to Fes and you weren’t lucky enough to get a seat. A man sees you squeezing through the aisles with your bags and helpfully ushers you into the part of the car right by the doors where you lean against the wall for two stops. When a crowd of passengers makes to get off, he has you move near him to the other side of the car so they can descend and tells you that once they do, you’ll be able to easily snag a seat before the new people come aboard. As they file past, you feel a hand cup your butt cheek. The touch is so light you’re not even sure it’s happened before you’re settling into a seat and your face starts turning red.
As you’re gathering your things to get off the train in Fes, you meet a man who, upon realizing you’re from the United States, decides you need to meet his 29-year-old son, Amin, who lives in New York but happens to be back in town. Less than 24 hours later, while on an insider’s tour of Fes’s greatest sights led by Amin and his uncle Larbi, Amin corners you in the giftshop of the pottery studio and casually asks, “So, do you have a boyfriend in France.” After hours of insistence (“I might be in France soon. I could come to Toulouse and we could catch a movie.” “You should look for a job in New York. I have a really nice flat in Manhattan.” “I really respect women. I treat them like princesses, like the delicate flowers that they are.”) it finally clicks that you’re not interested and he leaves his uncle to finish the tour without even saying goodbye.
For dinner on your last night in Morocco, you select a hole-in-the-wall seafood place with a fixed-price, four-course menu, a waiter who says “bonsoir” every time he approaches the table to refill your juice cocktail à la maison, and a going-senile owner who pops in to introduce (and sometimes taste) each course. Once you’re into dessert—strawberries, honey and nuts—he starts bringing you gifts: his secret spice mixture, some of the restaurant’s wooden silverware, herb-infused argan oil, a mysterious fruit that looks kind of like an artichoke, floaty white robes that he had you model for the other diners, and a basket to put it all in. You think you’re kind of special until he has you sign the thick, leather-bound guest-book: a record of all the other customers he’s taken a liking to over the years. You decide you’d better pay before he throws in the kitchen sink. Twenty euros per person instead of the advertised 15, but well worth it in the end.
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