Travel: Dos and don'ts in the cities and the souks

Women can brush off the macho hustlers in the souks by applying a few basic rules, writes Elizabeth Heathcote

CONTRARY TO popular opinion, sexual harassment is not a big problem in Morocco and I would feel safe travelling alone there. You will be approached by men, who are curious about Western women, but this will be overwhelmingly romantic rather than pushy.

Expect flowers, requests for your address, invitations to come home for cous cous and even marriage proposals. If you don't have one already, invent a jealous husband and men will quickly back off.

Dress is important. Cover up and you will be treated with more respect by everybody (this applies to men as well as women). Tourists get away with modest shorts and T-shirts but you will feel more comfortable in long skirts or trousers.

If you are harassed (it does happen) be firm and try not to get angry. If things get out of hand go into a shop or seek out someone older and ask for help. Sexual harassment is considered unacceptable and you will almost certainly be supported. Most harassment is for your money, however. If you are being harassed, here are a few survival tips.

1 Whatever happens, keep your sense of humour. Be firm but pleasant. Remember this is a male society. However much you're being hassled it is a mistake, if you are a woman, to be rude to a man. You will cause grave offence and rouse anger and it can be upsetting. Leave your sassiest self at home.

2 Develop a thick skin. However friendly someone may be, if they're trying to sell you something they're interested in your money, not you. Don't get disorientated if a conversation takes an unpleasant turn.

3 Have a stock of excuses for not buying services or goods: that you have whatever it is already; that you have no money; that you are working, not a tourist.

4 Usual city rules apply. In tourist areas pretend to know your environment, walk purposefully, avoid unnecessary eye contact.

5 Learn a little Arabic. Everyone speaks French but a few words of the native tongue will go a long way. If things get heavy, try saying "Baraka" or "Safi", which mean "enough".

6 Brush up your French. The chances are that if someone who approaches you speaks English, they are hustling.

7 Lie. If your French is good enough, pretend you work for the French government. If not, pretend you work for a development agency.

8 Act stupid. Look uncomprehending at every language tried on you. If you know a language that they don't then use it. Jane's Japanese flummoxed several would-be salesmen.

9 If things seem to be getting out of hand, threaten to call the police and mean it.

10 Don't be frightened. Morocco is a wonderful country and a safe one. The people are open, warm and protective. Remember that this is a very poor country and even hustlers are just trying to find a way to feed their families - they want your money, nothing else. If you get into trouble, seek help. You are almost certain to get it.

11 Consider hiring an official guide. They charge around Dh150 to Dh200 (pounds 10-pounds 15) for a half/full day, save wasted time and immunise you against hassle from faux guides.

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