I just came back from vacation in Spain. As part of our adventure, my husband and I took a train from Sevilla to the south coast, and a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. We only stayed overnight, but in that short time, I learned a lesson.
The guidebooks warn you about the hustlers who see the tourist as an easy target. For that reason, many tourists only come for a day trip, hiring guides in advance to meet them at the ferry and take them around. That’s not really our style, so we decided to take a cab to the hotel first, and then decide if we needed one.
No sooner did we arrive at the ferry than several different men came up to “help” us. It was impossible to know who was honest, or even who worked there legitimately and who did not. Being New Yorkers, we were curt and direct, and perhaps a bit rude. And as a result, we got our share of curses, both in Arabic (let’s just say it was clear), and in English.
The smells and sights were quite striking from the cab. Tangier is built on a huge, rocky hill. The streets were swarming with people and it seemed to be chaotic. Our cab driver spoke non-stop in fluent English as he drove fast, nearly hitting 3 pedestrians and barely escaped 4 car accidents our 20 minute ride up to the Kasbah, the very oldest part of town where we were staying. While many people wore jeans and T-shirts, it was not unusual to see women and girls wearing hijabs, or men in djellabas – the traditional robe down to their sandals. (One young man I saw wore jeans and a t-shirt that said, “free your mind,” which I thought was interesting.).
We took a walk later in the evening, past a crowded street, looking for a place to eat. We made a wrong turn and instantly found ourselves in a residential neighborhood that was eerily quiet. The few people we met on the street were helpful, but we were both glad to find a place to stop for a glass of hot mint tea. Men were sitting in small groups – inside watching TV, or sitting outside by themselves. I noticed that I was the only woman there, but nobody seemed bothered by my presence. It was a wonderful respite, and our waiter spoke enough English to give us directions back to the Kasbah. As we prepared to leave, my husband complimented the mint tea, upon which the waiter gave him two bags of mint for us to take – a delightful surprise and a generous gift.
We found our way back to the market, and sat down to a wonderful, almost home-made dinner. As we walked through the market later, when hawkers tried to sell us things we did not want, we simply said, “not right now, maybe tomorrow.” Several were satisfied with this, and did not try to press us further.
We returned to our hotel where we heard the Call to Prayer just as we were going to sleep.
I was struck that, at least for that short time, we were able to find an effective way to deal with the hustlers.
What lessons does this bring for people in conflict?
• People can hear much better when you treat them with dignity and respect.
• Don’t let perceived differences get in your way.
• A little kindness goes a long way.
• Think more about others needs than your own. Then figure out if you can get your own needs met while meeting theirs, as well.
• Be aware of cultural differences. What works in one situation may not work in another.
• You can get what you need without the other person losing dignity.