“My friend!” This is the universal greeting offered by those who want your money. They may or may not be offering a service in return. They are well versed in the art of psychological warfare. The more touristic the area, the more practice they’ve had.
I used to play a lot of Toe Jam and Earl for Sega Genesis. Around level five, the mad scientist would appear. If you stayed on his periphery, the mad scientist would not hurt you. But if you got within range, he would prick you with a needle and laugh maniacally. If you were playing as Earl, the fat one, your fate was sealed. Unless you had rocket skates or super fast high tops.
Hasslers are like the mad scientists. If you walk confidently and ignore them completely, you probably won’t be bothered. They will of course cycle through five different languages and they may also start shouting and whistling. If you slow down, make eye contact, or god forbid, start talking to them, your life just became a bit more complicated. If you are me, you don’t want to buy a necklace, or even look at one, and you certainly don’t want to pay someone to “guide” you to your destination. What do you do?
Have some fun with it.
1. Ask for Money
All hasslers speak English. Where I’ve been traveling, they will usually start in French. When I ignore that, they will switch to English. If they are doing this in my face and it’s obvious they are going to start following me around, I ask them for money as soon as they switch to English. Example:
“Mon Ami!!! Mon Ami!!! Ca va?”
“My Friend, where are you from?”
“Oh thank God, you speak English. Listen, yesterday I was robbed. My wallet, passport, everything was stolen. Could you spare me just a few dirham (20 – 30 cents) to help me out?”
They are surprised. Then apologetic.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Good luck.”
Then they walk away. Usually. I have done this maybe five times now. On one occasion the guy told me he could help me sell my jacket. Or my tshirt. Or anything of mine that wasn’t “stolen.” I didn’t ask, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that he most likely wanted a commission for each sold item. Marta. He was relentless. I doubt that will happen again, but it is a possibility to consider. Other downsides: you are being dishonest.
2. Try to Sell Them Something
I always carry around a shitty old Casio watch. I don’t use it to keep time. I carry it in case I need to bribe a border official. Or if I need to fend off a hassler. I reciprocate the “my friend, how are you” greeting and before their question/offer/whatever I ask them if they want to buy a watch. I pull out the Casio, make up some specs, and promise a good price. If they try to say something, I just keep blabbering about the watch. “It’s waterproof!! You can switch it to military time!!” The price of the watch? 5000 Dirham (about 500 hundred US dollars). Baffled by the exorbitant price, they will try to convince me that no one will buy it. I tell them otherwise. Then we have a funny argument about a stupid watch in which I am the one trying to recruit a customer. See how that works?
3. Act Insane
In a fifteen minute time period in Casablanca, I was approached by 12 people (I counted). Most of them were trying to sell hash. The others were “guides.” I was tiring of approach 1 and 2, so I tried something else. In my 8th grade French class, a popular student-created chant was “je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates?” (I eat too many cookies. Where are the big tomatoes?) When the hassler started in French, I started repeating the chant. Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates? Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates? Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates?
His first response? He offered to “guide me” to the central market where I could buy big tomatoes. This was funny. For many reasons. One of them being that the central market was a block away. You could see it from where we were standing. When I continued the chant despite his offer, he gave me crazy eyes and walked off. I then spent the next five minutes laughing in a phone cabin. Maybe I’m actually crazy.
I take no responsibility for what happens to you if you use any of these strategies. Keep in mind that I reserve these tactics for the truly aggressive – the obnoxious salesmen who are convinced that the hard sell on the sidewalk is a good idea. I understand that in many countries employment opportunities are limited. I also realize that some hasslers may be legitimately friendly and offering an honest service. If you are respectful, I will be as well. If you are confrontational, demanding, or unreasonably persistent, I will tell you that I eat too many cookies and I will ask you where I can find big tomatoes.
How about you?
Oh, and here is another camel drawing session from Bamako. Camelroo is more like it.
link if you can’t see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0HFOTdZZiA