March 2, 2015

My Morocco, Part 1: Les Petits Taxis

It's going to take me a really long time to wrap my mind around Morocco.

It was just so, so many new things constantly, all jammed into four days of interesting people, places, things, and ideas.

While everything was strange and exciting to me, 3 particular aspects of my trip really stand out as the craziest, most awesome, and incredible experiences I could never have imagined.

I didn't buy tons of stuff from the souks, I didn't ride a camel, and I didn't let anyone paint henna tattoos all over me. I think not doing these things contributed to my time in Morocco being relaxing and fun. But these other things that happened were possible because of the factors I listed in my previous post.

As it turns out, my favorite memories have to do with the taxis, the nightlife, and the food.

I will return to Morocco for these great moments, and to discover even more.

Let Petits Taxis

Until you can handle these taxi drivers, don't even bother coming to Morocco. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to hack it, but I got the hang of it quickly enough to avoid being scammed. First of all, everyone drives like there are no lines, no lights, and no rules. Bring a blindfold if you're a backseat driver. It's just the way everyone goes from A to B, and it's exactly like a hectic car racing video game. Secondly, the drivers will know you're a tourist. Then they'll try to get as much money from you as possible. I took around 15 taxi rides, and only once (in Fez) at the beginning of the route did the driver make eye contact with me, point to the meter, and say, "This is your meter and how much it will cost." The rest of the time was not so simple.

Just keep your eyes on the sky!
Let's just list some of the ways of the taxi world of Morocco.

-The drivers of petits taxis (red taxis) can pick up other passengers if their destination is along the way.
-Conversation can get stuck on why you may not have children. "But you are married, and married women have children." "Not where I come from."
-"Five-tee dirhams" (was there an "n," so 15?) means 50 dirhams: ALWAYS. They'll say it like they don't speak English, but it's really just to trick you into paying too much. But, hey, 50 dirhams is only about $5, so that's a great deal! NO! In Morocco, a daytime ride should be 10 to 20 dirhams (about 1 dirham a minute)!
-Repeat back to them in French numbers to make sure of the difference: "quinze" for 15 (say CANZ) and "cinquante" for 50 (say SANK-ont).
-Good rule of thumb: daytime routes should start at 2 dirhams on the meter, and nighttime routes should start at 3 dirhams (night routes have a 50% surcharge).

Catch that red taxi! Most of the cars are really old, just check out these photos.
-I had one driver refuse to put on the meter. I jumped out of the cab the next time it stopped.
-The French is not what you'd expect. The drivers don't know the "vous" (formal you) conjugations, and everything ends up being in "tu" form. So you have to be very rude (by French standards) and boss the drivers around like they're children.
-One driver kept telling us he had to make a stop somewhere; turns out he had to make an actual pitstop and get the back tire changed.
-Demand the change from your fare. If you don't, then the cabbies just stop returning change to people. You can always tip them with the change they hand back to you.
-Stand on the side of the street that goes toward your destination. You have a slightly higher chance of not getting cheated. Also try to know what streets should be taken, or at least how long the ride should take.

But my best petit taxi moment was on my final route to the train station.

I hopped into a cab that already had another passenger. The meter read over 30 dirhams, and I assumed the other passenger had just come a really long way. About 3 minutes into the route, I asked, "What's wrong with your meter?" The driver lamented about how it had been broken for a really long time. Then he told me, "But don't worry, I will only charge you 24 dirhams."


When you're prepared for a confrontation, arguing can be quite the fun sport.

I countered back with a loud, "NON! C'est pas possible, ├ža!" and told him I was getting out of the cab right away. He tried to smooth the situation over with, "Yes, yes, it's always 24 dirhams from this neighborhood."

I lashed back, "It is NEVER higher than 15 dirhams during the daytime from here!" He smiled like he knew I didn't know anything, and replied, "Okay, okay, you pay me 20 dirhams."

I threatened to get out of the cab again, saying, "It's only ever 20 dirhams in the evening, I know this!" He finally "compromised" and said it would be around 18 dirhams. At that point, I was getting rid of all of my dirhams at the airport, anyway, and 3 extra dirhams (30 cents in our world) wasn't going to be worth finding another cab and maybe missing my train to the airport. We both said, "We'll see."

The other passenger got out, and we started talking about the other neighborhoods in Casablanca. He said that the other passenger had agreed to pay him 15 dirhams for her route. I repeated my stance that 15 dirhams should be my fare as well. Why? "I know because I live in the Maarif and take this route all the time!" He smiled when he found out I "lived" in Casablanca, figured out that I also spoke English, and we talked about mixing languages and cultures for a few minutes. I mentioned another neighborhood, and this was enough to convince him of my residency.

We squeezed our way through a large intersection, and the driver complained about how the police just run through the red lights and do whatever they want. I looked him straight in the eye (yes, that's how much he was paying attention to the road) and said, "Yes, that's true, but that's what everybody does here, especially the taxi drivers!" ("I know this because I live here," I reminded him.) I continued, "But that's how everyone has to drive, or you'll never get anywhere."

He laughed and said, "C'est comme le zigzag!" (It's like the zigzag!) I took that comment and ran with it, "Yes, but isn't all of life one big zigzag?" He loved this.

"C'est la vie, le zigzag!"

Thirty seconds later we pulled up to the Casa Voyageurs train station, and I took out my wallet. I gave him an annoyed look and said, "Okay, how much? You want 18?" He smiled back and replied, "How much you say you normally pay?"

"15 dirhams."

"Yes, okay, for you, 15 dirhams!"

Remember how I said you have to be prepared to play by their rules?

And all of these taxi experiences happened in only four days.

For the complete "My Morocco" series...
Visit Morocco! (Under Certain Conditions)
Part 2: Breaking Beats
Part 3: Places & Plates