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On Moroccan Touts

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The following is a comment that Ubertramp www.ubertramp.com left on Travel Tip #5- Not Your Friend. I feel this comment (don’t worry, it is not the one about his avocado underwear) deserves to be posted properly for the sake of further discussion, as he brings up a trick that the Moroccan tout, in particular, is very versed at pulling off:

As we know, the “hello my friend. Where you from?” routine is a global phenomenon (at least it is in places more frequented by tourists) and as such, after a while, it’s easy enough to deal with. What I found hard to deal with though was the way that, in Morocco, they don’t just play mental chess with you – which can be kind of fun, and keep the senses sharp – but the real hustlers go straight for the heart. And, in my opinion, that’s a shitty, shitty trick to play.
A lot of the good hustlers know the best angle, and that is to get you onside – to befriend you (although, as you rightly say, they certainly aren’t acting as a friend would). Any decent human being is polite, courteous and wishes to be a good ambassador and give a good impression. It’s engrained in our psyche, its how decent people are programmed to be, it’s the right and natural thing to do. Acting any other way simply makes you feel awkward.

These guys clearly know this, and they use it against the uninitiated to good effect. If you do rebut them they then go to stage B, which is to look offended thus reconfirming in your own mind that your behaviour is inappropriate. It’s their last chance saloon, their final shot at drawing you in – and it’s by far the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. The phrase ‘saving the best until last’ seems to befit this situation perfectly, as no one like to upset others – especially a new friend…

In short, it’s the dirtiest trick in the tout’s book of underhand tactics, and it’s used all too often. That’s why now I feel no guilt about doing as you do, which is telling myself that they are not my friend, and that’s why I can just walk away having not succumb to their predatory tactics.

He is right. Moroccan touts especially, and all touts in general, are so skilled at manipulating basic human nature that is it almost impressive. In Morocco, it is as if they utilize a manner of folk lexicon to know the best tactics to exploit a traveller’s ingrained idea of social courtesy. They know that tourist and travellers oftentimes want to view the world as a hospitable, friendly, and welcoming place, and to befriend local people to obtain an “inside” view of the culture that they visit- and it is these good natured intentions that touts are so trained at exploiting.

Their formula is simple, pretty ingenious, and, all too often, successful: They use your polite and good-hearted tendencies against you to make you feel obliged to do whatever they want (i.e. spend money).

First, they usually approach you from behind or from the side and greet you with a friendly introduction (Hello , Bonjour , Ola , Salam ), which causes an instinctual reaction to turn around and look at them. Once eye contact is made, the first stage of sucking you in is completed. You have now acknowledged them and made a mild social contract to hear them out.

Then the tout usually tries to solidify contact further by engaging you in everyday “polite” conversation. “Where you going?” , “Do you like Morocco?”, “Can I help you find something?”, “I am a tourist guide, I know good place.” They pretty much say anything to get you to talk to them and have a conversation as if you were new “friends.” If you do speak, regardless of what you say, it seems to create a deeper social contract and allows the stage to be set, upon which the routine will continue. A simple, innocent handshake also puts you in the bag a little more, as the game here seems to be tricking you into carrying out the polite introductory routine that you have been socialized into doing while meeting someone for the first time.

They oftentimes will also say ridiculous statements just to break the ice and make you say something, anything, to them. Just last night I was approached by a tout who keep saying that he thought that I was from Finland. “Helsinki? Helsinki?” he kept asking. This seemed to be so ridiculous to me that I verbally negated his assumption, and I was therefore taken to the next level.

This level is the most despicable of all, as it consists of exploiting your natural faculties of friendliness and trust. Touts usually do this by trying to find some similarity, point of common reference, or any conceivable bridge to draw a connection between you and him. These connections can be a piece of clothing, a tattoo (“I have tattoo, too, look”), music (“you like Bob Marley?”), spiritual outlook (“we are all the same being living a common existence”), language (“I am an English student and want to practice”), profession, hobby (“you like hash, in Morocco we like to expand the mind”), experience (“I have traveled before, I go to England for two weeks.”), anything that can be used to make you trust him and think that he is just a hospitable guy who wants to be your friend and share a common interest. Oftentimes they try to compliment you, because they know that you will feel rude to not accept a compliment. They have even tried to invite me into their homes for a “traditional Moroccan meal” or some other such nicety that a traveller would otherwise welcome. in point, they try to make you think that you have found a friendly “way in” to Moroccan society . . . as you open up a “way in” to your pocketbook.

If the tout fails to “befriend” you outright, he will then often times try make you feel bad for him to gain your empathy. If this still does not work and you continue to walk on aloof, he usually then sets you up for what Ubertramp calls “Shitty, shitty trick(s).” Basically, they try to mind- fuck you into feeling as if you are an unfriendly, rude, and ugly specimen of human being and, as Ubertramp continues, “reconfirm in your own mind that your behavior is inappropriate.” They call you out on your impropriety and try to make you think that you just declined the friendly advances of a hospitable stranger who only wanted to share himself and his culture with you. They often times say things like: “I just wanted to practice my English,” or “I only wanted to show you the same hospitality that I was shown while traveling,” or “Smile the world is beautiful, there is no need to be angry.” These tactics are designed to implant some seed of doubt in your mind- “Maybe this person really does only want to be my friend? What if I am being the asshole?” This is the roughest stage, in my experiences, to get through, and is why the Moroccan tout is at the top of his class.

In this situation, your own ideas of politeness and rudeness are use against you and you are forced to analyze yourself through the lens of your own values from the perspective of the tout. They first push you to act rudely and then back up and make you realize that you were rude and that you treated them coldly.

Simply put, few people want to feel as if they treated someone improperly, and this is where the tout makes his money:

For how do you really know that someone who comes up to you in the street is a tout and only wants to hustle you? How do you really know that the person that you just rudely dismissed is not truly a poor student who just wants to practice their English?

This is the seed of doubt that they try to plant, and it has the effect of sprouting quickly into a horrid weed of guilt; which in turn makes your own personal sense of common courtesy and compassion rise up against you. It makes you feel like a “bad person” for defending yourself against a potentially “bad person.” It is a classic psychological role reversal: the predator all of a sudden becomes the prey, the attacker becomes the attacked. Then, against your better judgement and intuition, you are made to feel guilty, which is a feeling that most people want to assuage as quickly as possible. Henceforth, the tout is often embraced on the flimsiest chance that he may really be a “friend.”

Then you end up paying $50 for a cheap meal, $100 for a worthless carpet, and another $50 in unnecessary guiding fees. You get railroaded, taken to crooked shopkeepers, pressured into buying things that you do not want, and put into even more uncomfortable situations where your own sense of decency is exploited and manipulated in a great scam to relieve you of your money.

For many people, it seems to be far easier to just hand over the money and be done with an uncomfortable situation than to go against the grain and stand up against a quick witted tout.
I have seen it happen. Perhaps not to the same extreme that I wrote above, but pretty close.

Personally, I have not had any real problems with touts in Morocco. Like everyone, I have had a few uncomfortable run-ins, but nothing too major. I have also found the touts in Morocco to be by far more cunning and cut throat than their brethren in even India, Vietnam, and Latin America. I must say that I am completely surprised by how well the hustlers run their routines here, it is almost respectable.

I also think that I limit my approachability by touts a little by truly not being interested in anything that they could offer to me and from avoiding the main stomping grounds (markets, tourist commercial areas etc . . .). As a rule, I tend not to go shopping, I don’t hire guides, I don’t do drugs or sleep with prostitutes, and I seldom buy anything other than necessities while travelling, so there is little that a tout could offer me that I would want. If a hustler walked up to me and offered a roll of toilet paper, then perhaps I may be taken (haha).

But when I am approached, I fail to even give them even the slightest nod of basic human politeness, as I feel no social or personal obligation to them at all. This may seem rude at first, but I do not believe it is.

When a tout comes up to you in the street, he is “at work.” It is his job to try to manipulate you and swindle your money out of your pocket. That is how he feeds himself. All things being equal, I do not have any real problem with it. There are many jobs in this world where people are forced to do horrible things to other people: like soldiers, police officers, tax officials, judges, loan sharks, advertisers, stock brokers . . .. .

When a tout approaches you in the street, he is essentially wearing a mask- he would not talk to his friends in the same way that he talks to a potential “clients”- and therefore, it is this front that you are dealing with, not the person behind it. This is why I feel no guilt for being harshly direct with a tout that happens to approach me. Often times, I just put my arm up to cover my face and ignore his presence completely (which only works to various degrees). I feel no shame or remorse in this, as I do not feel as if I am insulting a fellow human being, but rather subverting the affront of someone who happens to work in an ignoble profession. . .. . and I know that I am saving my own ass as well.

To identify a tout is perhaps the hardest part, so I leave you with this piece of advice:

If someone offers their service when you are not showing any signs of distress, speaks multiple languages well, is aggressive about being your “friend,” and does not leave you alone when you dismiss them or they follow you or try multiple approaches to gain your attention, then there is a good chance that they have an alternative agenda.

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Filed under: Africa, Friends, Morocco, Travel Philosophy, Travel Problems

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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