petite anglaise

March 7, 2007


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:53 am

I pour my second cup of mint tea. I haven’t quite mastered the technique the waiters use, pouring it into the glass from an impressive height without dripping scalding hot tea all over the table, so I adopt a more British approach. The tea is so sweet that I can feel the sugar coating my teeth. It’s lovely though. Very refreshing.

There aren’t many tables in the museum’s tearooms, so tourists cosy up next to one another. I am soon joined by a French family – a sullen teenage girl, her hen-pecked father and short-haired, leather-skinned mother. From their tans, I suspect they have been here a while, soaking up the sun by a pool in one of the hotels in the Ville Nouvelle, or perhaps at the Club Med just off Djemma El-Fna. They look as shell shocked from the souk as I felt on my first day. I’ve got a little more used to it now, especially since I learnt how to say “no thank you” in Arabic. But I still got lost again today, and when an alleyway brought me unexpectedly to the museum, I couldn’t resist making one last pit stop.

Oh là là, partout c’est de l’arnaque,” laments leatherface to her husband. “Everywhere we turn people are trying to fleece us. In the souk. In the taxis. Even the mint tea here, I mean, 15 dirham is expensive.”

I hide my smile behind my guidebook. I suppose it’s all relative. 15 dirham (€ 1.50) seems a lot in comparison to a 3 dirham freshly squeezed orange juice on the main square, but really it’s peanuts. The taxi drivers are a pain, I’ll admit that. In the past three days I’ve only met one who was willing to put on his meter, as the law dictates. The trip to and from the Supratours coach station, where I bought my ticket to Essaouira cost me 20 dirhams one way, 30 dirhams back again. On the meter it would have cost 10. But I can’t be bothered to work myself into a lather about it. The sums involved are to small.

Et puis le Monsieur là, le vieux, qui nous a reclamé de l’argent quand nous l’avons pris en photo…” continues leatherface. I take a sip of tea. I’ve had this experience too. People ask for money, or object strongly when you point a camera in their direction in this country, even if you are just trying to capture a busy street scene. Those who object do so on religious grounds, I think, although an exception seems to be made for the king, whose photo hung on a wall at Supratours. Now I think about it, the poscards I’ve seen for sale here all show close up views of mint tea glasses, details from buildings or pyramids of spices. Only in the modern art exhibition in the museum did I see some paintings of veiled women. I don’t want be accused of disrespect, so I’ve put my camera away.

My ears prick up when I hear English spoken on the table to my left. So far I’ve seen mostly French tourists, although there are lots of German couples in my hotel. A grey haired, linen-clad couple are seated at the next table sipping mint tea. The voice I heard belonged to the woman who has just zoned in on the spare seats opposite. Her husband approaches, brandishing two cans of coke with straws.

“What a relief to find this place,” he says as he plonks himself down. “How anyone can manage not to get lost in that souk I don’t know…” He voice has a faint Scottish burr.

“I can honestly say,” says Mr Linen, who sounds like a BBC broadcaster from the forties, “that I haven’t lost my bearings once.”

Either he’s lying, or he has a far better map than I do.

“Where are you staying?” says Mrs Linen in a friendly attempt to offset her husband’s smugness.

“Oh, out towards the Ville Nouvelle,” replies Mr Scot. “It’s a lovely place, but they lied about how far it is from the main square. You can’t walk it in ten minutes, it’s more like forty. Not that we mind though, the walk here takes us through the most beautiful gardens, it would be a shame to miss those.”

“Ah. You see, my wife and I don’t have time to waste walking,” says Mr Linen. “We’re staying in a riad, a traditional townhouse, right in the middle of the medina.” He pauses to pour his wife more tea, and frowns at the coke cans on the table as though they offend his sensibilities.

“Been on any excursions?” asks Mr Scot, undeterred. “We’ve just come back from a trip into the country. We went as far as the bottom of the Atlas mountains. Very impressive…”

“Yes. We went to the mountains too,” Mrs Linen says quickly, jumping in before her husband can answer. But there is no keeping this man down. He has to go one better.

“We went up as far as the snow,” he announces, smiling broadly.

Mr and Mrs Linen drain their glasses and take their leave, murmuring the usual meaningless pleasantries – “hope you enjoy the rest of your stay” “lovely to meet you,” – and leaving the Scottish couple alone to finish their drinks in peace.

I get up to go to the toilet, but as I pause to push a postcard into the letterbox by their table, I can’t resist a show of solidarity.

“I couldn’t help overhearing,” I say. “I’m surprised those two didn’t climb the Toubkal mountain! But then, he and his wife don’t have time to waste walking, do they?”


  1. Ahh! i was in Marrakech about 2 weeks ago and mr Feeeesh and Cheeeeps! followed us everywhere too – exhausting and stressful… although we did get taken into an apothecary who gave us an hour long lecture on Moroccan herbs (including ‘moroccan viagra! you take 25 minutes before play then…Game On!’) he reminded us all too much of Borat – before he asked us out for a date…which we declined. But the best meal we had there was at Narwarma – you must go – it’s the most amazing space, with the most divine tagines and thai food… i can’t wait to go there again, my mouth is watering at the thought. Great cocktails too! Can’t wait to read more!

    Comment by Prudence — March 7, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  2. Nice one petite. Hate those twunts (hmmmm) who’ve done everything you’ve done, only better. Reminds me of someone I knew at university who managed to get backstage passes to every single bloody concert I went to, so when I was going on about (for example) the queue for the bar, I always got some smug reply about “oh there was tons of stuff free on the rider, we just had that instead”. Grrrr.

    Comment by suziboo — March 7, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  3. Excellent :) Having travelled a little bit around the world I could probably draw up a private league table of nationalities (or should that be ‘personality types’?) that annoy me the most when met abroad.

    The Shirley Valentine “Chips and Egg” scene comes to mind.

    Comment by Jonathan — March 7, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  4. don’t you try to avoid brits abroad?

    Comment by roisin — March 7, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  5. Ah, competitive travelling or on-the-road put downs… They usually come from those who have ingested the entire guide book and follow it to the letter, thus missing out on local life altogether. Tiresome people.

    Comment by Ariel — March 7, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  6. Lovely – it sounds like you could spend your whole holiday in the souk and not see the same thing twice.

    Comment by Damian — March 7, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  7. That’s a funny story. So, no one help up the vault of the sky while they were there?

    Comment by Doug — March 7, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  8. The connection we feel when we hear our native tongue abroad (with whatever accent) is nearly instantaneous. You’ve captured that, and the subsequent coming back to reality when the speaker is a snot, very well.

    Comment by Lost in France — March 7, 2007 @ 6:28 pm

  9. Excellent come-back. Arrogant tourists… why don’t they just stay home?

    Comment by The Bold Soul — March 7, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

  10. “don’t have time to waste walking”
    that doesn’t even make sense. what a very peculiar sentiment to express. perhaps they were too busy ticking off the sights they’d seen in their guidbook.

    it’s so fantastic to eavesdrop – a really mischevious pleasure. i did it only the other day with a trio of nannies in kensington gardens (see blog) – but it’s even more piquant when people don’t realise you speak their language … and figuratively loosen their stays! happened to me a lot with english speakers in paris.

    Comment by mad muthas — March 7, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  11. I would love to take pictures of everyday life and street scenes. But I don’t like to risk offending people so, like you, I put my camera away most of the time.

    Amazing how some people turn everything into a competition isn’t it. Well caught.

    Comment by Z — March 7, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  12. I thought the whole fun about going on holiday was to enjoy the differences and the whole getting wripped off by taxi driver , tea vendor…to enjoy the unexpected, so far away from the norm. You’ll be forgiven for taking photos…folk there love being photographed and appreciated for their rich culture and warm hospitality. Get away from the touristy places and enjoy!! you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

    Comment by aminah — March 7, 2007 @ 10:26 pm

  13. Excellent, a two parter! Very enjoyable. Is there another instalment?

    Comment by LKH — March 7, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  14. I almost always find this kind of tourists to be funny. Until I go to a foreign country and I overhear some French tourists saying something very dumb and French-pride related… and then I’m so ashamed.
    Besides, I’ll never understand why such people would go to these amazing countries if all they do is stay in their hotel, enjoying the swimming pool. Oh yeah, they paid 2000 euros a week to enjoy a swimming pool hours away from home, that must be it!

    Comment by Marie — March 8, 2007 @ 12:19 am

  15. I understand what you say about the prices, and I too tend to think like you about the small sums involved. But a lot of travellers, the type who go backpacking around for several years, get very upset by the attitude of us ‘tourists’ because by letting taxi drivers etc. overcharge us, we are setting a precedent and then it is even harder for the backpacker, who often does not have a lot of money, to get a reasonable price. The French family opposite you in the museum café do not sound like poor backpackers, but some people are just upset to be exploited because of the colour of their skin or because of the country they come from. In a lot of countries there is a tourist price and a local price, which a ‘rich’ tourist might accept, but it is nonetheless discriminatory, and we do live in a world in which we are trying to eliminate discrimination.

    Comment by Tokyo Girl — March 8, 2007 @ 5:27 am

  16. Many bloggers are blogging about their recent vacations in Marrakesh…many of them Anglophones.

    But, I’m wondering how safe it is for an American to vacation there. My guyfriend insists that I should not attempt to vacation there, due to an alleged “anti-American” sentiment in the region.

    Has anyone else experienced this or can anyone elaborate on what their experience has been there?

    I hope this isn’t true as this seems like a fabulous place to visit…

    Comment by Mlle Smith — March 8, 2007 @ 7:54 am

  17. Tokyo girl – it’s funny, I nearly included your point myself and I do agree with it. A friend said she got out of the taxi if the driver refused to put the meter on and got another one instead. I think I should have done the same, but sometimes I just wanted to get from A to B with minimum fuss and not canvas five people before I found one willing to play by the rules.

    Mlle Smith – I saw some Americans, I don’t think the locals treated them any different from other tourists, but maybe someone else can chime in here if they have personal experience. One thing which really helps, is speaking French.

    Comment by petite — March 8, 2007 @ 10:13 am

  18. Do you find yourself feeling more drawn to those that speak your native language than those who speak French? My Dutch isn’t good enough to launch into conversation with Dutch-speaking tourists, but I suspect even if it was I’d stick to a rare show of solidarity with other English speakers.

    Comment by BlondebutBright — March 8, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  19. test comment after wordpress upgrade…

    Comment by petite — March 8, 2007 @ 12:05 pm


    They pump them up with a serynge-full of untreated tap water to make them look more appealing and juicer. Get one from a café instead if you don’t want to get a horrendous tummy bug. You have been warned!

    Comment by Boris — March 8, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  21. Dear Mlle Smith
    I was in Marrakesh a week after Petite, and I heard American voices around me. I honestly don’t think there is any problem at all for American tourists in Morocco. Quite honestly, non-native English speakers on the whole cannot tell the difference between an English and an American accent anyway, and none of the many English tourists I saw seemed to have any problems. We’re all just lumped together as “Western tourists” as far as they’re concerned.
    It does definitely help being able to speak French though, as Petite said.

    Comment by Mancunian Lass — March 8, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  22. I am totally with you on the “it’s too cheap to haggle” thing. But sometimes I do for the principle of the thing. (I have been here in Beijing for six months.) Yesterday I haggled fiercely (for me) with the roasted sweet potato vendor who pretended to weigh the potato but was obviously trying to cheat me. I managed to get the price down from 3 RMB (37 cents) to 2.5 RMB (31 cents). I don’t know what these are in pounds, but you can figure that the sums involved are… measly.

    Comment by zapaper — March 8, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  23. Thanks very much for those two.

    Now I’m looking forward to hearing about Essauoira – if you’ve time – it looks so wonderfully blue in all the guidebooks.

    Comment by Roads — March 8, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  24. I went to Fez a few years back with a friend (we were two young American girls), and we had absolutely no problems. But we had been warned, so we were cautious. Being American wasn’t an issue either, and though we both spoke French, we told people where we were from when they asked, and nothing more was said. BUT it was before Irak…

    I’m also shy about taking pictures when I feel it’ll bother people, but I love photography, so I’m always torn between dying to take the perfect shot but not wanting to attract any attention to myself. It drives me nuts! I need a James Bond camera in my sunglasses, I suppose.

    Comment by O. — March 8, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  25. But what would life be without the Mr and Mrs Linens of this world, they add so much to any holiday. A colleague of mine was telling me about a cruise he went on in January – he and his wife had the misfortune to be teamed with a very boastful couple on the same table for dinner every evening. Every night they went into elaborate detail about their wealth and possessions and one night the husband said “I have a Jaguar and Porsche in the garage at home.” The retort from my friend was “I have a freezer in mine.”

    Comment by Sue — March 8, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

  26. I feel morally obliged to listen in on every conversation I hear in English as I live in Paris and get a bit starved of mother-tongue conversation. English tourists are usually so nice and cheerful too. Mind you, I’ve learnt to be a bit more discreet since I was earwigging on the metro one day and the fascinating conversation about where they were going next was interrupted with the words “That woman’s been staring at us for the last 10 minutes, Mum”. Oops! Probably had my mouth wide open, too…

    Comment by tonic — March 9, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  27. That was funny Sue!

    Love the photograph Petite, I have the same blue glass sitting here beside the computer, holding my makeup brushes. Your post reminds me of my past desire to visit Morroco…one day.

    Comment by miss tango — March 9, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  28. I don’t know who are the most annoying ,those who boast about how much they’ve seen(compared to you)or those who boast about how little money they have spent.The latter often refer to themselves as travellers and everyone else as tourists.In my opinion everyone who is not working in holiday area is a tourist whether they are there for 2 weeks or 6 months,spend £5000 or £300.(That’s how it seemed to me on the backpackers circuit in 1982,and I’ll bet it’s pretty similar now)It didn’t help of course that I was never the one to find the cheap deals and often fell headlong into the traps for the unwary.We ended up in the only guest house in town which our little Guide de Routard expressly warned against!

    Comment by Carol — March 9, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  29. O. # 24
    En faisant “Les Bobos”, Negrito se serait-il servi d’un appareil-foto pareille? (Lien de la semaine de Petite il y a à peu près quinze jours.)

    Comment by Penny in Amsterdam — March 14, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

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