L’Observateur : Fès Dispensed Edition

Within five minutes of arriving in Fès, I was offered one... and I’ll take a go-kart and a kazoo. To go.

Fès is a lot like Marrakech, except it’s got the flavor of a medieval donkey-cart town and it’s even sketchier at night. After the shops shut down and all the women mysteriously vanish, white-devil tourists like me get lost in the medina, and boys loiter around trying to get you to give them money for guide services – whether you ask for it or not.

Which brings me to the worst thing about Morocco: The touts. Endless conversations start with “Bonjour, Hallo, Hola, Hi” and then proceed to “Française?, Expanich, Englich?.” Then they invite you into their shop to “have a look.” Nice of you to invite me to spend money in your shop, except, I don’t like salesmen, I don’t respond to the pressure sell, and I’d rather be left alone. Plus, I’m not in the market for Berber rugs, sequined sandals, tacky jewelry, spices, belts, earthenware, rasta wear, jellabas, or handbags.

In two very isolated instances, I’m certain I was slurred in Arabic after I declined an overture. Once, a kid in Marrakech straight up said “fuck you!” because we wouldn’t give him a dirham. Often, overly insistent men will grab you by the forearm. I hate that. Ne touchez pas. Another time, I was walking on a dark street at night and a guy was yelling at me from a distance to try to get the conversation started, and when I didn’t turn to acknowledge him, he yelled, “Hey America, learn polite.” Enough already. Hedging a bit on my earlier claim that Morocco is analogous to Mexico: When you account for all the unemployed dudes hanging around trying to make you their mark, it reminds me a lot more of Cuba.

The worst part is when the back-and-forth gets going, they start walking with you, and you can’t get rid of them. “You want eat? Need sleeps? What you look for?” A particular teenage boy who wouldn’t leave me alone kept saying stuff to me as I was walking home like “this way safe,” implying there was something to be afraid of if I walked the way I was intending to go instead of the way he wanted to take me, which would mean that I owed him some money by the time we rounded the corner, because boy, had he done me a favor. In this particular instance, when we reached the hotel I gave him five dirham, and then he bitched about it. Beggars can’t be choosers, dude. Ad nauseum.

Earlier that same night, a middle-aged guy sidled up to me and whispered, “have lust?”

Fès was the worst town for this routine, which is too bad, because it’s quite a bit nicer than Marrakech in a lot of other ways, like the absence of traffic in the medina, it’s aforementioned medieval donkey-cart flavor, and the fort ruin which sits in a park overlooking the city.

I get the fact that Morocco’s poor and unemployed need our white-devil tourist money, but the touts have certainly put a dent in my desire to come back to this country, which is too bad because this is an extremely beautiful and interesting place that I would like to return to without reservation.

The topper is that all this bullshit happens in a place where – in public at least – the women almost never say anything, smile, or make eye contact. They don’t seem very happy.

I was sitting on the patio a cafe in Fès waiting out the rain, and behind me dozens of unemployed men were lounging around drinking tea, playing cards, and smoking hashish. Just then, a cop pulled up on a motorbike, sat down at one of the tables, drank a coffee, and nobody flinched. A man in Asilah told me that the King had decreed that he didn’t care if people smoked hashish for personal pleasure so long as they weren’t trafficking.

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