I published this interview with a tout in Morocco a long time ago in a print-only publication. Recently a Twitter follower saw an old interview I did and asked if this piece could be accessed somewhere. It can’t, so I’m reprinting an abbreviated version of it here.
We occasionally like dealing with touts, but most of the time view them about as favorably as mosquitoes buzzing around our head. Remember though, they’re real people just trying to make a living.
The touts of Morocco enjoy a special brand of infamy with seasoned travelers. They speak more languages than you can say “hello” in, they have an answer to every objection, and they’re masters of scams that their brethren in other countries haven’t even thought of yet. Though most of the country is relatively hassle-free, the hustlers in Marrakesh and Tangier do their best to keep the bad reputation alive.
After fighting off touts for two days in Marrakesh, I gave in and turned over some money to one to guide us through the winding medina. On two conditions though: 1) no carpet shops and 2) that he allow me to ask him a bunch of personal questions about his life and job. Here’s what Mohommed had to say.
How long have you been a guide?
Many, many years; since I was a boy.
Why did you start doing this as your job?
It was a way to get money for the family. Many people in my family didn’t have a job, so I found a way to make some money.
What is your family like?
I have one brother and one sister. We all live together with my mother and father.
Are you married?
Yes, but in Morocco we stay together. My brother is married also but we all live in the same house. That is the normal way here.
What languages do you speak?
Arabic and French fluently. German, English, and Spanish enough to get by as a guide.
How much money do you make in a normal day?
On a good day, 150 or 200 dirham (US $18 to $25), but some days I only make 20 ($2.35)
How much of a commission do you get from a carpet shop if you bring in a buyer?
Usually 30 dirham, sometimes a little more. If they buy a very expensive carpet, maybe the man will give me 150. It’s not a percentage.
What do you think about American people?
They are nice people—very friendly.
How about the French?
No, no! (laughing) But there are good people and bad people everywhere.
Why do you think Morocco sometimes has a bad reputation with tourists?
There are way too many guides bothering people because there are not enough jobs. And in Tangier, it is dangerous: a lot of mafia and smugglers.
But the police are continually cracking down on touts and guides aren’t they?
Yes, and it is very bad for us. To be an official guide you must know someone or pay someone, plus you must speak other languages perfectly. But I cannot find another job, so I must try to stay away from the police.
Can you pay the police to leave you alone?
Once we could, but no, not anymore. Too many tourists have complained about the hassles in Marrakesh.
Do you want to be a guide your whole life?
No, but I must do it to support my family for now.
[Flickr Creative Commons photo by Active Steve.]