Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
26Trip End May 06, 2009
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Where I stayed
I saw very little evidence of wealth in Morocco. Casablanca is a commercial city, with surprisingly few tourist attractions. So there must be great personal wealth, but I did not see any...nor in Marrakech.
So I began to wonder about the wealth disparity. I have seen it before - in my two trips to China. But something is different in Morocco. Specifically, it seemed to me that almost every transaction with a local shop keeper or kiosk owner or cab driver ended with disappointment. They always seem displeased with compromise. When they didn't receive their original asking price, they appeared hostile. One teenaged boy guided us through the Souks to a shop he was sure we wanted to see. This was after he took us to a museum that was strangely closed in the middle of the morning. When it came time to pay him, he asked for 200 dirham (about $24) for about 20 minutes of work. Ben took out $5 and the boy completely refused it. I told him this was all he would get, so he could take it or leave it. He scowled and accepted the cashAs I repeatedly witnessed this disappointment, I began to form this question: Are they glad we (American tourists) are there spending our money? Two possible answers:
YES - We are customers that they cannot reach unless we travel to them. Their gross margins are usually high (because they are expert negotiators and usually get a good price for their goods/services) so they earn more with each tourist who buys from them. While they don't depend on us, we provide a good source of revenue for them.
NO - Comparisons are inevitable. Because we are there, they know that we are rich. We have spent money to travel, then we stay in hotels that they cannot afford. Yes - they get some of our money, but at what cost to them? They learn how wealthy we are and the disparity becomes more and more obvious. They seem to resent us and our wealth. Maybe they even resent the transactions too - because we customers could easily pay more for the things we buy. Maybe they would like us better if they never knew us.
Travels with Mohammad
One of our travel books said thar fare disputes with taxi drivers are the rule, not the exception. We hired a man named Muhammad to drive us round trip from Casablanca to Marrakech. He wanted $60/person for the service (about 3 hours of highway driving each way - about 150 miles). At departure, we had no hotel reservations so he agreed to help us find one when we arrived. I negotiated down to $50/person (which saved me $250). Unbeknownst to me, Abby was listening to the negotiations. When we agreed, she wrote "$50" on the back of her hand. She learned this trick from the safety officer who had given a lecture the previous night. Mohammad spoke good English, was polite, helpful, and patient. He took us to one hotel but we didn't like it. We returned to his van. He weaved his way down narrow, crowded alleys to the second hotel - a "riad" (like a bed & breakfast in America). He found a local boy to direct us from the parking lot to the riad. We would not have been able to find it alone.
He picked us up the next day and drove us back to Casablanca. When we unloaded, I took 2200 dirham from my wallet. At an exchange rate of 8.3, this was about $265. So I was offering $15 more than we agreed on. Almost immediately he became irate and incredulous. He protested loudly about how we were cheating him. He said that we agreed on 50 Euros per person (which was a price about 20% higher). I told him that was impossible, because I'm American, I never have Euros, and I never negotiate prices in Euros. The couple who traveled with us are South African, and they had no Euros either. Mohammed then began to say that he was losing money on this job, in fact, he would have to pay his "office" the difference out of his own pocket. And his family would suffer too. The conversation became more intense. Then he changed his story to say that we had agreed on a price of 2500 dirham instead of the 2200 that I was offering. He continued his hysteria and refused to accept our money. The women and children had gone to the ship, so it was me, Terry, and Mohammed trying to resolve the dispute. Terry and I finally put our money on the passenger seat and walked away from the van. Nobody said "thanks" or "I appreciate your help" or "have a nice day" or even "good bye". He drove away with about $365 and seemed very unhappy about it. Nominal GDP per capita in Morocco is about $2400 per year. So in 2 days, he made 15% of the average annual earnings for a Moroccan. Of course he had toll, fuel, and hotel expenses. But he also was able to get other taxi fares in Marrakech while we were not in the van. How can he complain about this deal?