Moroccans are all kinds, just like any other people. But they are all fascinating to us.
The most Moroccans we got to meet are merchants, guides, and guardians for vehicles. Merchants are like elsewhere, selling items big and small; but the difference is that their stores are packed into large bunches of thousands in a square mile that it is confusing and fascinating at the same time—confusing because once one gets into the souks it is very easy to get lost and almost impossible to accurately locate oneself; fascinating because with seemingly hundreds of shops next to each other selling basically the same ware,
it is very hard to fathom how one could decide on buying from one rather than from another. Of course most of the stuff is not marked with price, so comparison shopping cannot be done easily.
In cities or in tourist attractions, guides abound wanted show us around for a fee. According to tour books, there are two types of guides: official ones and faux guides. But we couldn’t tell whether which type each is, at least not with any confidence. The several that professed to be official guides showed us picture IDs which are of such low qualities that a laminated picture ID designed by a seven-year old could look a hundred times
more official. And when we showed a lack of interest, one guide was willing to lower the the official price of about 100 MAD (Moroccan dirham, locally shorthanded as DH) per hour. There was also a young man who showed us a tannery (dyer’s market, but I suspect it was not the real one, but a small tourist trap nearby). He spoke good English, pushed us hard to buy things, and refused to accept a small fee. On the way out, I found that he probably was paid 50 or 100 DH by an elderly person near the entrance of the tannery.
Then there are guardians, who are everywhere a car may be parked. According to our tour book, there are official ones as well. They may ask for about 10 DH for a night. But there are certainly more unofficial ones. In Ifrane we stopped our car at a place near the town square where there was a parking ticket machine AND a guardian. If we were to park there, we would end up paying 10 DH for a couple of hours, barely enough time for a lunch, verses 10 DH for the afternoon and overnight if we parked some 50 yards (meters) away on a side street. In Todra Gorge, the self-proclaimed guardian was a boy of
about 12 years old, who spoke a modicum of English (Moroccans generally speak Arabic, and French, their official languages). When we gave him 10 DH, he wasn’t satisfied; only when I pointed out that we barely stopped for 10 minutes that he backed off, saying “have a good day, my friend”.
On Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakech, there are always people selling stuff and food, as well as artisans of all sorts: there are snake charmers, musicians and dancers, people wearing fancy dresses, all waiting for someone to take pictures for 10 DH. Supposedly there is also a dentist who would pull teethes in front of spectators, but we didn’t get to see this feat. In Almoravid Koubba, the overseer told us the same five English sentences (roughly) five times, transmitting no meaning because his English was so very
bad, and would refuse to take a tip less than 10 DH.
Of all these people, most are men (or boys). Women can be seen, although in much smaller proportion to men, but they usually don’t interact with customers (especially in Marrakech). The only exception I found in Marrakech is a woman who operated a small “teleboutique” in a small alley near our hotel, Jnane Mogadore. She apparently run the store alone, speaks good French and enough English for me to buy the phone card and the put extra money into it. In Ifrane a couple of hotels had a lone woman taking charge of the reception desks for the two hotels I visited, and they spoke enough English to
conduct the business, although when I asked whether she spoke English one of them said “not really”. While people running hotel businesses generally spoke English to some degree, those in the restaurants may or may not.
Police is a different matter. Unlike in the US, Moroccan police is usually not found driving around in patrol cars, but usually congregates in small groups at fixed locations. We were flagged down getting outside a small town by a group of about six. Apparently I passed a car where I shouldn’t, right before the place where they were stationed, although I really
couldn’t understand why—I was not driving at a high speed, and the road was apparently
not marked for no passing. The officer in charge was very polite, and attempted to give me a short lecture. After seeing that our French was terribly bad and couldn’t get what he was trying to convey, he shortened his message with a single sentence, of which we caught the last word “Attention”, and waved us by. In other parts of the country we were stopped by police check points a couple of times, each of which they simply waved us by without questions or inspections. During Ramadan we saw a group of three or four police officers
(including a woman) passing the boring afternoon times in a restaurant, either chatting on and off or nodding away in sleepiness. They were not eating anything; and the restaurant was mostly empty.
During our three days’ stay in Ifrane, we met three families of regular people. Each of these had one or more who spoke English, which made communications with us easy. The first family we met were two young sisters, named Inman and Ramniè (sound). They no longer lived in Ifrane, but came back during this time to be with their family. The second family was of three generations, with the grandparents, a daughter, and a granddaughter named Maya. We were surprised to learn that the grandfather is an official working for the
Prime Minister. The third family was visiting for the day from Fes. The surprising fact of this family is that the young man spoke not only Arabic, French, and English, but also some Chinese. It turned out he is an engineer, worked in Qingdao (famous for the only type of Chinese beer seen oversees) for six months cumulatively. Beside him, the family consists of his beautiful sister, his reticent brother, both of who are high-school students, and his apparently well-educated parents. His father spoke some English as well (much
more than our French).