When you go abroad, it’s most likely going to be obvious that you are a foreigner. Whether it is a language barrier, your complexion, or the fact that you are walking around in circles with a map- people can usually pick you out of a crowd. That is something you aren’t really in control of, and no amount of language or cross cultural training courses can erase some innate differences between foreign you, and a native. One of the biggest things though while abroad is making sure that you don’t offend others with your own values, beliefs, and most of all actions. It is pretty widely accepted that people aren’t going to have identical cultures, but you have to be conscientious of offending others where your cultures don’t overlap. Morocco is not different in this aspect; therefore, I have prepared various travel tips highlighting Morocco’s cultural norms and values, and what American behaviors you won’t want to bring along in your suitcase.
99% of Morocco is Muslim, making it very much an Islamic state. A unique part about Morocco is its proximity to Europe, particularly France and Spain. These interactions make for a Westernization of some aspects of culture, although Moroccans remain significantly more conservative than Americans in a multitude of ways. Modest dress is the norm in Morocco despite outside European influence. Younger generations are more apt to wear jeans or a t-shirt; however, many women still wear the traditional djellaba and headscarf. A djellaba is a floor length, long sleeve, loose dress-like garment worn by Moroccan women. Moroccans do not expect you to wear traditional dress, but modesty is the best policy. Shoulders and arms should be covered, and nothing should be above the knee. Midriff should not be shown, and loose clothing is recommended in order to be modest, and cool as the hot temperatures make longer clothing more uncomfortable. The more rural the area, the more likely locals will be more traditional, as they are less influenced by outside cultures. Men and women are both recommended to wear long loose pants or an ankle length skirt or dress. A long sleeve shirt would also be recommended in a more rural setting. If visiting a mosque is on your checklist of “must-do’s”, you will need to have a hair covering, and you are required to take off your shoes. Mosques are usually not open to non-Muslims, and the town Moulay Idriss is off limits for non-Muslims looking to stay the night. If going to the beach, you should cover up until on the beach, as a swimsuit is not viewed as appropriate anywhere else. Changing rooms and restrooms are frequently found on local beaches, and provide good places to change if need be.
Men and women also have different relationships in Morocco than in most Western societies. Public displays of affection are taboo, and a distinct distance should be kept between a man and a woman while walking down the street. However, it is common for males to hold the hands of their male friends or family members, and the same goes for women, as homosexuality is so taboo it isn’t even thought of. Sexual relations outside of marriage are punishable by law, and oftentimes while checking into a hotel, proof of marriage is required. In addition, if an area such as a cafe is “male dominated”, it is unacceptable to take a seat, especially along the sidewalk. It is also not recommended for women to go out alone, as there is a good chance she will be subjected to numerous comments and many advances. More traditional Muslims would not expect to see a woman traveling alone, and especially not after dark, which can cause problems especially if you aren’t in a touristy area.
Religion plays a very important role in day to day life in Morocco. Muslims pray 5 times a day- the first prayer being at dawn, and is announced at each mosque through speakers. Friday is a holy day, meaning shops will close by the afternoon. Alcohol and pork are not consumed, but both are becoming increasingly more and more available. Ramadan is a Muslim holiday that varies year to year. This year Ramadan ran from June 17th to July 18th, and will be 10 days later next year. It would not be expected as a foreigner to not drink, eat, or smoke as the Muslims do, but eating in public would be highly offensive. It will also be difficult to find food in restaurants during this time as well, so you should plan accordingly. Moroccans tend to lay lower during the day during Ramadan, so it is recommended to be quieter while roaming the streets. It is also illegal to carry a bible written in Arabic, or to distribute any non Muslim literature.
The arts are very representative of Morocco’s rich history. Local museums and architecture provide a look into the past, while street vendors showcase their goods as well. Carpets, clothing, jewelry, ceramics, sculpture, painting, carving, and calligraphy are common mediums, and local artwork is for sale at most markets, as well as their annual art festival. Such markets are called “souks” and haggling is the way of life. The friendlier you are, the more likely you are to run across a better deal. Moroccans are extremely hospitable people, and it is not uncommon to be invited into their homes right after meeting them. Moroccans are on the “pay it forward” type mentality in this aspect, for they often do this knowing that one day it may be reciprocated to them. Upon entering a home, it is important to be extremely cautious and courteous of their home, and follow the host’s lead. It is very common to take off your shoes upon entering a home, but again, look to your host. It is also common to bring your host a gift. Pastries or sugar are common for those who live in the city, and a live chicken is a good idea for a family in a more rural area. Visiting a home is the best way to sample all of Morocco’s finest foods in the most authentic of ways, as meals are a large part of a home visit. Food in Morocco is very different than in the United States. Delicacies such as snails replace steak and potatoes. Food is eaten with your hands, but only your right, as the left hand is associated with the restroom.
Although the official language of Morocco is Arabic, although one third of the population speaks Berber mainly in more rural regions, especially in the mountains. French is taught in schools and in business areas, and many folks are understanding of English as well. Moroccans are very hospitable and happy to help in many ways, but it is still best to follow the above ideas and concepts to make the most of your stay abroad.