Marrakech’s Medina is a maze! A rabbit warren of backstreet, dirty alleys with smells to match. They can be busy, noisy and overwhelming, especially at night!
After spending two weeks in Marrakech and running the gauntlet of the Medina every day, here are a few of our tips on how you can stay safe.
In an emergency :
112 from your mobile or Le Brigade Touristique Tél : 0524 38 46 01 <- put this in your phone! The tourist police are quick and very good. They’re also plain clothes!
Speak English at your peril
A good’s value is established based on the potential buyer’s wealth…and being white (foreign) is a sign of wealth. There is a definite hierarchy of ‘foreignness’ and American and English are up at the top, quickly followed by German & Dutch, followed by Eastern European and finally at the bottom French.
We always speak French together and when that’s not possible we either whisper or keep quiet.
Keep your clothes firmly ON
Prior to Morocco I was of the firm belief that no man or antiquated religion was going to dictate how I would dress HOWEVER seeing how women are treated in Morocco, I would strongly advise that you avoid showing your breasts, shoulders, stomach, knees or legs.
Moroccan men are of the opinion that if there’s flesh on show you’re a prostitute or man crazy. Of course this is utter bullshit but it does dictate how you’ll be treated. My experience here has shown me that young Arabic men can be entitled, aggressive, menacing and controlling.
Plus the way they ogle women who wear skimpy clothes is disgusting and you really don’t want that sort of man looking at you.
We have watched western women (accompanied by men) wearing short skirts, thigh high boots, off the shoulder tshirts and singlets/strappy tshirts and they’re cat-called, have stuff thrown at them, are laughed at, men of the market turn to stare at them, women will turn around and stare and I’ve heard of Moroccan women spitting too. It just isn’t worth wearing anything revealing in the Medina walls.
Men wearing shorts are easily identifiable in the Medina as tourists – especially in February! It draws unnecessary attention to you and highlights you’re western.
Do not dress nicely
Your monetary worth (IE how much you’ll pay for things) is determined by how foreign you are and what you’re wearing. In particular avoid wearing white which can often be see-through but it is also a sign of wealth.
The streets are also dirty (really dirty), stinky puddles, chicken heads, mud, dog poo, human excrement (no joke) and everything else you can think of. Anything you wear will get dirty.
Beware of con artists
Con artists are nearly always men and come in different forms: pick pockets, bag snatchers, strokers, accidental knockers, touchers!
Make sure your bag has a zip – if you’re carrying one – and wear it around your neck as well as your shoulder. Carry it to the front of your body and keep a spare hand on it too.
Don’t carry anything in your pockets – especially your phone or wallet.
Be wary of people ‘accidentally’ touching you, standing on your shoe, knocking into you. This is often a ruse for theft.
Rebuke unwanted touches
Don’t be afraid to turn around and say
Do not touch me. Ne pas me toucher.
You might get some funny looks but it is important to educate people on unwanted touching.
I have taught our kids to say it if they want and they have done quite regularly. Your child’s body belongs to them and they shouldn’t be subjected to having strangers touch them.
Walk with conviction
Walk like you mean business. As if you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. It also helps if you have a ‘resting bitch face’ lol.
Ignore the locals who will say to it
This road is closed. C’est fermé. This road forbidden.
The locals will always tell you roads are closed, they’ll always tell you
Hey my friend, square that way. You want the square?
It’s tiring, patronising and really irritating but just ignore it. They’ll try and lead you on a goose chase around the back streets just for money.
Use an old phone
Do you have an old phone lurking at the back of a drawer? That old Iphone 4 with a crack through the screen? Resurrect it and use it here.
Download offline maps to help you navigate the medina alleys and avoid looking like a tourist with a map.
Don’t ask for or accept directions
Unless you want to pay for the information, be followed or harassed, don’t ask for directions or accept them.
You might be ‘accompanied’ by a man or a man on a bike. Be forceful and tell him to go away. Make it clear you’re not going to pay him.
Don’t accept ‘gifts’ or anything for free
One of the tricks of vendors here is to give you something as a gift or for free and then to demand payment afterwards by foul means.
This is particularly prevalent with the henna women.
Beware of the henna ladies!
Not only is the Henna not certified as skin friendly (it can contain absolutely anything in Marrkech) but the women will draw upon you whilst you’re blissfully and ignorantly not paying attention. They’ll then harass you until you pay for your (unwanted) henna and if necessary they have young men hanging around to intimidate you into paying.
If you do want a Henna tattoo, make sure you negotiate the price before hand and if necessary get the price written down.
Do not take photos of women
I think for religious reasons, Islam forbids the recreation of images on earth (Just as Christianity and Judaism does). If you take photos of women, they might get angry and shout at you and you might be chased by local men on their behalf.
On the other hand they might agree but ask for money.
Some people say haggle like your life depends on it and others say don’t bother.
Haggling is part of the local culture but you’ll end up paying more than the locals would pay anyway so you could question if it’s worth it.
I would advise against haggling for fruit and vegetables but if you’re buying something large like a bag or material, it’s probably advisable to haggle.
Furniture, large lights, huge tea pots are sold in the medina and there are companies that ship back to the UK. Definitely haggle for both of these.
don’t make unnecessary eye contact
Unnecessary eye contact with men can be taken as a come-on. For us, eye-contact is a sign of honesty and openness but here it can be misconstrued easily.
Licking your lips can be misleading…
You might think that licking dry lips is innocent enough but if you happen to lick your lips and look at a man it has different connotations!
Threaten to call the police
If you’re harassed, followed or in some way intimidated, threaten to call the police. There is a law against troubling tourists; but it has not entirely solved the problem!
112 from your mobile or Le Brigade Touristique Tél : 0524 38 46 01 <- put this in your phone! They’re very quick and very good. They’re also plain clothes!
Avoid animal tourism
Snake charmers, monkey handlers, horse rides – they all abuse animals in some way and lead to animal cruelty and suffering. Please don’t encourage this.
try to avoid the water
Although the water is partially treated here it still isn’t in line with European standards. It has made us incredibly ill, not once but twice in four weeks.
This placed us in a quandary; drink the local water and potentially get ill or buy bottled water which is full of petro-chemicals and pollutes the world?
We opted for a mixture and just accepted the fate we’d be ill. If you’re buying bottled water ALWAYS CHECK THE SEAL.
If you’re avoiding water, say no to ice cubes and check if the orange juice has water (and sugar) added to it. Make sure all of your tagines are piping hot.