The Trick Is Acting Like You’ve Been There Before

A golden nugget of wisdom, told through the parable of a beer trip

Time To Read: 10 mins | June 25, 2017

Dear kids,

As you get older, you’ll learn a lot of life lessons that are otherwise unteachable, things that only come from experience. Gauging how hard to shake a stranger’s hand based on their grip, for example, or which farts are going to be too loud for public environments.

Here’s another one you’ll come to discover over the years: if you act like you belong, people will assume you do.

You’ll be told exactly 6,429,419.5 times in your life that confidence is everything. Annoyingly, it’s often true. Even if the other people in a room don’t consciously register it, everyone is reading your body language to decide if you’re comfortable or not, judging if you know what you’re doing. It’s as true in business meetings as it is at pick-up basketball games, and will greatly affect how you’re received by the world.

It also comes up frequently while traveling. You’re inevitably going to walk into the wrong government building or a restaurant that looks like it requires a reservation, or you’ll ‘accidentally’ find yourself in one of those spas where the masseuses don’t wear enough clothes. On these occasions, if you look panicked and unsure of yourself, managers and security and other unsavory types will immediately send you packing in shame.

On the other hand, if you keep your head held high and act like you’ve done this/been there a thousand times, everyone will accept that you know what you’re doing and allow you to carry on.

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Depending on the situation, this could make or break your day (especially with regard to happy ending parlors).

Take the other night. I was in Marrakech and, because dry Ramadan lasts an entire damned month, looking for a drink. I’d been tipped off that there was a restaurant a half-hour’s walk from my riad that would serve tourists if they presented a passport. That sounds like a long hike but really, it could have been three hours away through a WWI minefield; I was going.

Now, due to a combination of inadequate research and the maze of crawl spaces that connect the narrow streets in this part of the world, Google Maps can be a fickle mistress. Sometimes it’ll save your life and keep you from becoming hopelessly lost abroad, while other times it’s the sole reason you’re stumbling through the exact wrong neighborhood at 3:00am. Like eating Taco Bell twice in one day, it’s incredibly risky to try but, if you survive, well worth it.

For my cocktail expedition, the path looked relatively straightforward. I’d be hiking further from the city center than I’d yet ventured, but it was a simple path with just a few turns. I threw on shorts, flip flops and a collared shirt — that last bit an attempt to class up my first drink in nearly a week – and set off.

I crossed the main market and passed the Mosque, which per fortuitous timing was surrounded by hundreds of locals praying. The clergyman leading them was chanting on a speaker system that’d favorably compare to an AC/DC concert. I decided that seeing the devout at worship was a good sign for my own holy mission that evening.

Past the Mosque, my phone directed me to a long straight road that’d bring me outside the city walls and dump me suspiciously close to my destination. After dealing with the charming flagstone labyrinth of Marrakesh for 5 straight days, this highway, as it were, seemed too good to be true.

And it was. The indicated road was blocked with dozens of waist high pillars, each ringed with red flashing LED lights.

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Imagine walking straight from the set of Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade into the Tron universe – that’s what my next fifty yards looked like.

The most security I’d seen so far in Marrakesh was two days previous. That was an overweight sleeping man wearing a Toy’s-R-Us boat captain’s hat sitting in a foldout chair outside a bank. In hindsight, he was probably just a tired resident with colorful taste in headwear, but at the time he represented the pinnacle of Morocco’s defense network.

Here there were three men in crisp white uniforms, each of whom watched me approach with the intensity of a 14-year old boy seeing Jessica Alba in a bikini. Clearly I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, but when all else fails, moxie succeeds: I straightened up my posture, wore my best humble shit-eating grin, and gave the guys a small wave as I passed without pause.

It almost worked. I made it about 10 yards past their huddle before one of them wised up & jogged over to me. “Excuse me sir, you are guest at hotel?”

“Yes,” I replied, exactly as I would have had he asked if I knew the tuning ratios for a late ‘50s Pontiac Bonneville by heart.

He smiled and nodded. “Welcome back, sir. Enjoy evening, sir.”

I was accosted like this no less than four more times at other checkpoints. Google’s sneaky shortcut through the city was actually, I’d later discover, the access road for the most posh hotel in Marrakech, which boasts on its website, “24-hour security to give guests the peace of mind they deserve.”

Looking back on it, I’m relatively certain protocol dictates they ask me for a name or a room key. Had I been an Arabic man, in no universe would I have been allowed anywhere near the grounds without showing proof of my right to be there. But a moderately-well dressed white guy who walks around like he owns the place gets a free pass. Never say America’s the only place with racial bias.

I passed the final guard station – another “Enjoy evening, sir” – and walked the last five minutes to the restaurant. Which, turns out, wasn’t a restaurant at all.

As soon as I turned the corner onto my destination’s street, I knew I was in trouble. I’d heard that the area west of Marrakech’s traditional center was more modern, but I hadn’t realized this meant a strip of multi-storied nightclubs that wouldn’t look out of place in Vegas. Laser lights on the outside of buildings, house music making your skull rattle and, in front of every door, a team of bouncers in all-black suits.

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I spent enough years working in bars to know I was shit out of luck.

I was dressed like Captain Ron, not James Bond. But given that I’d just walked half an hour, hadn’t had a drop of liquor in several days and just won through with a bluff only moments ago, I decided to roll the dice once more. I straightened my back and put on the airs of the particular type of douche I imagine would own a Moroccan nightclub.

“No shorts,” grunted a scary bald man as he stepped in front of the door, blocking my path.

My confidence immediately fled to another continent, so I instead tried a masculine version of the Puss In Boots face (if there is such a thing) and said, “Aw, I’m just coming in for a couple quick drinks.” Then, although I’ve never said this in my life and now feel dirty having done it, I added, “I’ll tip good.”

God, that’s not even proper grammar. But you know what they say about desperate times.

That line had an effect though. The rusty cogs in Baldy’s skull were working through this new development, and he devoted a full three seconds to deciding if he could overlook my exposed skinny calves.

Turns out he could – but not my toes.

“No flip flops,” was his new policy. And after my face registered surprise at this change of tactics, he repeated it: “No flip flops.”

So now, after last night, I need to amend my rule about acting like you belong: let it be known that you must also dress like you belong.

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photo: is fishmonger a term for a pimp? or a prostitute or something along those lines? i can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look it up. market in essaouira, morocco

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.
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