Culture Shock in Morocco

Morocco can be a shock for the cycle tourist who’s just stepped off the plane or ferry.

Bargaining is the first essential skill you’ll need to pick up. From hotels and campgrounds to souvenir shopping in the souk, ask the price first and then bargain accordingly if you feel it’s too high. The merchant almost always works in some wiggle room (usually quite a lot in the markets!) and after a few days you’ll start to get a feel for the true price. The key to good bargaining is to see it as a game. Smile, sip a cup of tea and don’t take it too seriously or you’ll only give yourself a heart attack. If you need to, start to walk away and you’ll often be called back for a better offer.

A tagine chefRestaurants usually have fixed prices but there is a huge difference between the ones aimed at tourists and those catering to locals. In Zagora, for example, a side-street restaurant served us a tagine big enough for two people for less than half the price of a one-person tagine being served around the corner on the main street. Ask first if there’s no menu with prices listed.

Requests for tips or baksheesh can be common in tourist areas. If someone offers to show you around a historical site or lead you to an address you should have some small change ready as a tip. You may also be approached in cities like Marrakech by people who want to lead you to the tanneries on the edge of the city walls. This inevitably leads from the tanneries to a far flung carpet shop where you’re pressured to buy a rather expensive souvenir. The Moroccan government has cracked down on this in recent years and all guides are supposed to be licensed. It’s best to avoid following anyone you haven’t arranged a tour with.

On the road, it’s common to meet children begging for sweets, pens or money. We found the best way to deal with this was to stop and greet the children with a handshake or a joke but not to actually give anything as it only encourages more begging. Some cyclists report kids throwing stones, especially in the Draa Valley. We only had this happen once and even then it was a half-hearted attempt and not threatening. Again, stopping and encouraging the kids to come and say hello is a good tactic. In just a few minutes you can establish a relationship with them and they don’t want to throw stones at you anymore. Like kids everywhere in the world, they are bored and seeking attention.

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