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Paying Local Helpers

As for the one who helps you when you're lost...

Sometimes you'll arrive in your respective town in Morocco and you won't know how to get to your hotel or riad through the confusing alley ways and streets. Or you may decide to head out to do some sightseeing and you get lost.  Or you might be heading back to your hotel or out to a restaurant but you can't seem to find the place.  The medinas can be confusing, and sometimes you will have to ask people for help.  Sometimes getting directions is not enough, because after one or two meters, you're lost again, so you'll need someone to walk you there.

After travelling through various regions of Morocco (Rabat, Essaouira, Marrakech, Fes and High Atlas), I found that you can never know when people expect you to pay them for help. You are most likely to have to pay when they walk you to a destination in Marrakech, but even there a few times individuals walked us to locations without expecting any pay.

-Sometimes people will expect no payment. 
-Others will only help with the expectation of being paid, but they won't tell you up front.  In fact, they rarely ever tell you up front.
-Sometimes people say they'll help you without expecting any payment, and then still ask for some kind of payment. 

So if someone is prepared to help you, especially a younger man, be willing to pay.  Ask them up front if they're expecting to be paid before they proceed to help you.  Do not continue unless you agree on an amount. You will pay 5, 10 or 20 dirhams at your discretion (10 or 20 is most common).  40 dirhams and up is a rip-off. To ensure you don't get ripped off, e
mail ahead of time and ask your riad how much the helpers are paid in their area for giving directions or helping you to your riad.  Tell your helper to take you directly there.  Sometimes they take the long way around or stop at shops of friends first.

If you don't want to pay for someone to walk you somewhere when you're lost, ask women or shop owners.  Shop owners can't walk you there, but they can tell you how many meters to walk, left, right and what to look out for.  You will need to learn some basic directions in French to hold this conversation because not many shop owners speak much English when it comes to giving directions. From my experience, women won't walk you there but they'll give you directions.

At the end of the day, don't be frustrated about enlisting the assistance of these helpers and having to pay. Their help makes life much easier.  You definitely don't want to find the riad on your own; the medina is confusing. It's just $1 or $2.00 and they could really use it.  In a way, you could say you are helping their local economy.  And it's not like these people are using it for drugs and alcohol.  They use it for living expenses.  Just know how much you should pay and don't let them scam you.  If they seem like they are taking you off of the path and to peoples' shops, just tell them to take you directly to the riad.

When it comes to arriving at the medina, call the Riad when you arrive outside the medina, and ask if someone from the riad can meet you without any charge.


Local Helper Scams
-They may tell you that they have sick family members and need the money, and ask for a large payment
-They may take you the long way around
-They may take you to shops of friends of family on the way
-They may provide other services like carrying most of your bags or showing you sites and ask for additional payment



Below is an interesting account of the battle surrounding paying local helpers:

Now I should say that I have had many pleasant, simple and straight forward experiences with helpers.  I just had maybe three or four  "helper" awkward/undesirable experiences out of maybe 15 times.  But I highlight below two experiences of how it can be awkward and how you have to know the appropriate rate and stay firm...
 
I know they always try to throw on an extra 20% of the cost. For example from the airport to my Riad was 200 but he tried to charge me 300 dirhams. The taxi in Marrakech said from the train station to the medina gate is 50 dirhams, so I knew it must be just 30.  When I told him 30, he insisted 50.  We settled on 40.  I found out later that 30 or 40 is right. 

I tried to call my Riad to avoid having to pay someone to direct me and walk me there.  The number didn’t work.  So the taxi had one of the locals, who direct people to their Riad for a living, help me.

The local, probably about 24, short, thin and dark skinned, more inclined to an African descent rather than Arab, was mainly quiet, but tried to make small conversation.  He seemed friendly enough.   He never discussed a rate.  He walked me through the confusing small side-alleys.

Once we arrived at the door, he knocked, and didn’t ask for any money yet. I offered him the 10 dirhams.  He didn’t even take it from me. He told me I should be paying 20 dirhams.
We got into a back and forth where he tried to intimidate me with his angry eyes, facial expression and words.  I asked the Riad how much I should be paying. They asked me if he brought my bags.  I replied that he did carry one of them while I carried the other. She suggested to just pay the 20 dirhams “to avoid problems”.  Well if a Riad staff that lives there said that problems could be looming, I paid.
 
I asked the worker if that guy will ever come around again and harass me and he said “No, he probably forgot about it. He won’t even remember you. Besides the tourist police are very serious. He wouldn't dare do anything”.   I guess these guys deal with hustling tourists and trying to intimidate them all the time.  I wasn’t scared because I know intimidation is just a tactic they use on some unaware and unprepared tourists, but I don’t respond to those kinds of behaviours. Even within the Riad, there is a man that comes to help others bring in their bags for a cost.  So anyone who walks you to your Riad in Marrakech will charge you.

This guy was expecting an honest and correct amount as it turns out.
 
My parents arrived 1 hour after. They told me (another) “helper” wanted 50dh and they were still waiting outside, unpaid.  My dad said there were two men and one only tagged along for the walk.  Now that I’m no longer an amateur and I know the price, I went outside alone and told them I will pay them, but only 20.  There was two. One was friendly and persistent while the other acted impatient.  They said they already agreed on 50. I told them I just came and paid only 20dh.  He started to walk away in a fury and exclaimed, “That’s your problem!!!”.  I laughed and said “No it’s just 20”.  I told them only one of them helped and the other just walked with them.  The impatient one paced back and forth angrily.  After we talked about the issue back and forth, I went to get some money.  

When I came back down, one of them was around the corner and asked me to come. He is trying to put me in a vulnerable position. I scoffed and said “No. You come!”  I told them it’s just 30dh.  He said “No, bring your dad”.  I said “No”.  He must’ve been shocked to see a girl stand up to him and take the place of a man.  I had a much friendlier and light-hearted demeanor this time around. 

I told him “Listen”. And he said “Okay I’ll listen”.  I said “It’s Ramadan, we have to be honest…”.  He interrupted me and said “I don’t want to talk to you anymore". He told his friend in Arabic to take the money and leave.  So I gave them the 30dh and they left.  Why did I give them 30 instead of 20? Because I know they were expecting 50 from us, and I know they have to split it, even if one didn't do anything, so I gave 20 to the one who helped at 10 to the tag-along.  It's really just 1 extra dollar to avoid conflict like the first situation.

I never saw the first guy again. However, I did see the second impatient guy again.  He was on the streets outside the shops trying to attract people into the stores.  He called out to us like all the other people passing by. It seems he didn't remember us.  So we just ignored him like all the other people harassing you to come check out the store.

In the end, the lesson for me is to always ask Riad staff ahead of time what the going rates for things are (taxi, hammam, massage, directions etc).  If you ever try to offer too little, it can be insulting and create trouble. 

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