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July 13, 2008 Non-random acts of kindness

I’d been warned that people in cities are prone to take advantage of tourists (or westerners who they assume are tourists). I took all the usual precautions – keeping nothing of value in my back pockets, wearing loose clothing that covered my pockets, carrying my valuables in my little day pack in front of me, etc – and experienced no pickpocketing, harassment, etc. On the contrary, I got to witness remarkable integrity from two separate people.

I was buying some earrings, both for myself and to give to my host cousin who had a birthday last week. I got two pairs for 10DH each, and one for 15DH. I paid with a 100DH note, and asked for 55DH in change. (When I did the math in my head, I’d thought that the more expensive earrings were 25, not 15.) The vendor corrected me, saying that I only owed him 35. I insisted that I owed him 45, and wondered if this was some sort of backwards scam. He walked over to the jewelry rack, pointed out the prices, and convinced me that I only owed him 35, and should take the 65 DH change he was trying to give me.

At almost any point in the several minutes it took for him to go get change, tell me what I owed, etc, he could have said, “Oh, of course, you’re right,” and pocketed an extra 10 Ds. But he refused to be dishonest, and insisted on doing the right thing. :D

A similar exchange took place at breakfast the next morning. Pastries were listed in the menu as being 4DH, so when I paid after the meal, I tried to pay the waiter accordingly. He said that I owed him 2 Ds less than I thought. We went back and forth a few times, and he finally wrote out the prices on the paper sheets that serve as napkins. When he wrote down 2 for the chocolate croissant, I understood the discrepancy, but pointed out that pastries are 4DH. He told me that those are bigger pastries – the croissants are included in the big breakfasts (like the one I’d had the day before), so they make oodles of them, so they’re less expensive than the listed price.

Again, he had several different opportunities to take advantage of my misunderstanding and pocket the difference…and he never did. He firmly maintained his integrity.

Both times, I was deeply impressed by such scrupulous, diligent honesty in the face of an easy opportunity to take advantage. Next time someone tries to tell you that tourists get scammed in the cities, tell them these stories. Two different men, on two different days, in the busiest square in the biggest tourist city in Morocco. Cynics say that only fear of getting caught stops most people from criminal activity. But these guys could have gotten away scott-free, and even had me agreeing that they’d done nothing wrong, and they still stood strong in doing what was right. Sure, there are scam artists out there. But don’t let anyone generalize about “all Moroccans” or “everybody who works with tourists” or even “crime-laden cities”. It just ain’t so. :)

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