How to Travel Safely in Morocco

Moroccans are famous for being argumentative, persistent and solicitous and many first-time travellers in Morocco can feel a bit overwhelmed when they arrive to Marrakech and someone tries to charge them 10 euros just for showing them the way to the hotel!

Moroccan in Marrakech

He’s a nice guy. Just buy his drum.

It’s important to understand, however, that the young guy who hassle you in the big cities are not representative of Moroccans who are typically kind and hospitable towards strangers. I’ve been helped out more times than I can count in Morocco by people who just met me, I’ve been invited to eat, stay in their homes, and generally taken care of.

It’s probably true to say that any place that receives large amounts of tourism tends to get a little jaded and embittered towards the visitors and in the case of Morocco it’s exacerbated by the  fact that we can so easily visit Morocco but they can’t leave. For most of them the only way they can get to Europe is by paying thousands of euros to a people smuggler who can take them on a risky speedboat trip across the Straits of Gibraltar. So when they’re living in poverty, not sure where the next meal is coming from, it’s a little galling to see tourists wasting money left, right and center, and taking photos of everything and everyone as it’s all so exotic and new.

With a little understanding of cultural norms it’s fairly easy to avoid any trouble though and just go on your way peacefully as you travel around Morocco:

– Learn some basic Arabic. Really, just a few of the set phrases for greetings make a huge difference.

– Never be afraid to say ‘no’. Moroccan touts and salesmen know that North Europeans in particular often have a hard time saying ‘no’ and they capitalise on that by following you around until you give in. You don’t need to worry about being impolite. Just put your hand on your heart, give a brief shake of the head and walk on. No smiling or apologies necessary.

– Don’t get into arguments. You won’t win as Moroccans have a lifetime of experience!

– Don’t take it personally. If someone is rude to you it really has nothing to do with you but just with their general frustration with life. Maybe they have someone ill in the family who can’t afford medicine. Maybe they would like to get married but can’t afford to. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour but it might help you understand it and that’s half-way to forgiving it.

It takes some time to learn the Moroccan way of communication, the body language and social norms. You won’t get it at first but with time you’ll learn how to fit as best you can as a foreigner in Morocco and even enjoy the way people playfully fight and argue – for Moroccans, there’s nothing like a good fight to make their day. It’s part of the dance of life.