Alex needs your help

You may have heard that Alex is going to Marrakesh.  But is he ready to deal with the touts?

The fundamental problem: for most of the day you don’t want a (Moroccan) guide at all.  But having a guide, if nothing else, keeps away trouble.  If you walk around without a guide, you are pestered incessantly by all the other would-be guides.  It is like choosing which giant leech should be attached to your head, knowing that the space will not remain empty.

The guides don’t cost much up front ("I am your friend.  I love United States.  I show you for free.  Very good friend.  No charge nothing."), but at the end of the day they ask you for money.  I don’t just mean ask, I mean beg, plead, cajole, and finally, if need be, demand.  Avoiding this spectacle — humiliating to both parties — is itself worth at least twenty dollars.  In the meantime the guides bring you around to merchants of their choosing, and receive kickbacks on anything you buy.  So don’t expect the guide to do your bidding or to bring you where you want to go.

In Marrakesh you cannot do without a guide altogether.  You will get lost in the souks and never come back to your blogging life.  And you might wish to visit two or three quality stores, rather than the twenty your guide has in mind.  A guide can, in principle, bring you to the good ones.  But little do you know just how interesting he thinks the carpet factory will be [hey, you can’t see child labor like this just anywhere…].

So how should Alex structure an optimal compensation package for his guide?  How can he avoid being ferried to stores he does not wish to visit?  Can the end-of-day performance art be dampened if not avoided?  When should he pay the guide, how much, with what instructions, and contingent on what?  Must he use the same guide for more than one day?

Comments are open; whether Alex knows it or not, he needs your help.  Badly.


Alex can pay him a kickback based on everything he buys.

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This BTW was exactly my experience with real estate agents when I bought my first house: if you try to go without an agent and try to see non-FSBO houses, you are in for not just pestering but plenty of lies, threats, etc. that you implicitly agreed to have the seller's agent represent you, too.

So, I suggest that if Alex needs a new house, he hires the guide, brings him back to the US, and pays to get him a real estate license, all of which is likely cheaper than the standard commission on a house in Fairfax.

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First off, you don't need a guide. At least not in Marrakech. My girlfriend and I successfully navigated the medina without assistance.

A bit of Arabic goes a long way. Our favourite phrase was "la, shukran", meaning "No, thank you". The pronunciation is a bit tricky, but the wonderful Internet has sites with audio clips, or your wonderful University will have a course on Arabic. The more Arabic you know the more respect you'll get. We didn't know enough.

That said, guides can be good to show you places you'd never find on your own. Fez has registered guides you could arrange with the tourist office. Perhaps Marrakesh has the same.

I'd just be straight with the guide. Arrange a deal up front, and tell him won't be paid if he takes you places you don't want to go. Oh, and if you pay the asking price on anything, you're a sucker. Once you've shown you're a sucker you'll never be left alone. Our guidebook said aim for 1/2 of the asking price, but we found that 1/4 was more like it for most things. Haggling starts with the taxi that takes you from the train station (and the competitive taxi ranks are quite something to see!)

Above all, don't get too emotionally involved in the haggling, and harassment. It's just a game, and the money isn't that big a deal to most who'll be reading this blog.

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It is really much easier than you've heard. Each city has an official tourist office, Syndicate d'Initiative, where you go and arrange from various options, like a 1/2 day tour of the souk, or a full day with souk and something else, etc. the fees are set by the gov't. YOU DO NOT engage someone who stands at the gate to the medina. Usually these are crowds of boys/young men who'll do just what tyler described. They are the ones that having an official guide will keep at bay.

You simply won't avoid being taken to a couple of shops. That's just the way it is. Grin and bear it and you may even want to buy things there. the official guide will take you to the quality stores anyway.

In Fez, where going without a guide into the Medina (souk) can be problematic, on our first day we had a 1/2 day guide, then we did the next day on our own and hardened our hearts and pocketbooks. Then we hired a full day taxi--no guide--to take us to a couple of sites outside the city. The Syndicate d'Initiative does the bookings for this as well.

Marrakesh's souk is easier to navigate; we found fewer obstacles in the way of annoying boys wanting to sell us stuff, than in Fez. We didn't bother with a guide there. Another thing to know about are the gov't sponsored Coopérative artisanales, easy to find in all major cities. These are collectives that sell all the crafts at set prices--no bargaining--which may be a little higher in the end but you are assured of high quality and stress free buying.
A GUIDE BOOK to the country provides the above information. Get yourself a good guide book, troll the web, and you'll breath easier.

Philip Rappaport


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My suggestion is to rapidly cultivate a Moroccan friend, and then see the city in his company. I spent a month in Morocco years ago, traveling around with a group of college buds that included one native Moroccan. We had a great (and very authentic) time. I can't imagine how lousy it would have been without our Moroccan bud. She spent a lot of time shooing away beggars, scaring mobs of children, fighting prices down to about 2% of the original demand, giving us a little more cred than we'd have had otherwise. We even got to spend nights in the medina, where we were chewed up by very authentic bedbugs.

Short of having a Moroccan friend, though, I'd recommend staying at the local Club Med.

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You can't. The guide doesn't work for you. No matter how much you pay him you can't verify that he isn't taking you to the exact same stores he would have taken you to anyway. Without any way to verify that you are receiving real consideration (an honest guiding), there can be no basis for the bargain.

Carry a compass and note major landmarks.

Ignore the other guides, shove, and growl. Maybe openly carry a baseball bat with a tooth stuck in it.

Discover market prices. Walk in to a merchant, offer a flat 20% of the asking price (take it or leave it), and do not bargain. If he won't sell, leave and try 25% at the next merchant. It's not too likely any one merchant will have something you just "have" to have.

And of course, learn a little Arabic.

This seems to work for me, but I may be a little more confrontational than most.

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If Alex knows French, then he does not need Arabic. Furthermore,
the Arabic there is quite different from standard (Egyptian) Arabic,
so don't bother with that if he does not have it already.

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I agree with the no guide advice as above and add that the best way to get around the souk is by randomly walking here and there. The key is to stay near traffic (no dark alleys) and keep some food handy in case you get hungry faster than you can find somewhere to eat. Alex has to put some faith in the market, instead of command and control. How can you know what you want to see or buy if you haven't ever been there, anyway? The Spontaneous Order of the souk will be clearer when you wonder it yourself.

Just a clarification on "pas mon premier jour" (I've been around). I would say "maybe tomorrow" - that makes it hard for the touts to chase you around; another VERY handy one is "Insha'allah" which means if it is the will of Allah (that you will see them again, buy a carpet, etc...)

Wonder in and walk in wonder - the souks are amazing. Fez is the second best I've ever seen (first was Kashgar in C. Asia).

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I think Alex should just hire Chuck Norris.

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Paying double or triple the going rate and acting like you have street smarts are mutually exclusive.

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These well-intentioned ideas about how to construct an optimal compensation package are quite bemusing.

Alex is at the mercy of asymetrical information + collusion. That is, his knowledge of the Marrakesh markets is indistinguishable from zero relative to any 'guide's'. Furthermore, he cannot verify that the guide will bring him to any objectively determined (based solely on Alex's preferences) place.

Tipping the guide will not change the guide's behavior as the guide will then collect twice - once from his kickbacks, once from Alex.

If Alex can -- he should signal that he can inflict a cost upon the guide should the guide do something verifiably undesirable. Acting 'Russian' may be that signal, in that Russians in some parts of the world, are thought to have low threshholds for violence, especially when compared to Americans.


-So how should Alex structure an optimal compensation package for his guide?

Include costs borne by the guide.

-How can he avoid being ferried to stores he does not wish to visit?

He can't. Guide will either feign ignorance and Alex cannot verify collusion.

-Can the end-of-day performance art be dampened if not avoided? When should he pay the guide, how much, with what instructions, and contingent on what?

Probably not. But by showing sensitivity to the 'performace art' - i.e. that Alex's bears a cost. He is incentivizing the guide to greater 'hysteria'. As the guide ramps it up, Alex is more inclined to pay more. Best option, try and get some market information on what to pay guides (hotel and other guests).

When performance art ensues, pay him said fee. Show no fear or discomfort upon further hysteria.

-Must he use the same guide for more than one day?


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A guide is really not compulsary, provided you have the Lonely Planet. Nevertheless a official guide can be a nice complement to get a headstart in the Medina. But don't think the official guide wouldn't take you to shops, although to the ones that are a little more upscale or to the "goverment-controlled cooperatives". With only a little sense of coordination you'll always find your way out of the medina. So hire an official guide on the first day, and then explore on your own. It's true, the other guides will clinch to your throat just as all the salesmen, but if you can't handle that, you'd better stay out of Morocco. Going there means haggeling, a lot of talking, and nuisances from dawn till dusk. But once you get over the culture shock, you'll find it somewhat charming - unless you run into the real scams of course (Don't take pictures of musicians and dancers on Jemaa El'Fna, and don't get any henna tattoos !!!). When I got back to Berlin from my trip I almost missed that nobody would walk up and talk to me on the bus.
Oh, and if you post a photo eating the sheepheads on Jemaa El'Fna (, you're my hero.

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