Culture Morocco

The cultural differences between Europeans and Moroccans are so vast that one could write a book about them. Below you will find an overview of the most important points.

Moroccans tend to be rather modest, reserved people who will not admit strangers into their private sphere. However, their initial stiffness may disappear very suddenly, and then they are known to display a level of hospitality that is so overwhelming that it makes Europeans feel uneasy rather than honoured. Further on, under the heading Food and Drink, we will go into this deeper.

An important distinction in Islam is the one between ‘hallal’ (that which is in agreement with the Quran) and ‘haram’, that which is against the letter or the spirit of Quran. These concepts are used in the first place for food and drink. Alcohol and pork are haram and should not be taken by Muslims. However, the concept is used also in a wider sense. Moroccans attach great value to the amount of respect shown. Age receives respect, as do people who serve society, such as teachers, and people who are devout Muslims. Although as a westerner, you are bound to be a Christian, you can still command respect: be well behaved and you will be treated respectfully. If, however, you behave in a ‘haram’ way, there is a markedly greater chance that you will be mistreated, or ripped off, or robbed. Being sparsely dressed as a woman, being drunk in public, or showing one’s homosexual nature openly are the types of behaviour that are viewed as ‘haram’.

It is not allowed for Christians to visit mosques in Morocco. An exception is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, but only during the tours given in daytime, and under special circumstances you can enter any small local mosque you may be invited into. Medersa or Quran schools often are accessible.

When you agree to meet at two, you go there at three and wait until four and after another hour or so you go home again,’ according to a saying about keeping appointments. We come from a highly busy culture in which time is money and appointments need to be kept to the minute, or the day’s schedule will be messed up. Moroccans take a different view and it is well accepted to be half an hour late for a social appointment. However, if you make an agreement with a taxi-driver to bring you to the airport, he is sure to understand that he has to be in time.

A surprising phenomenon is the ‘Arabic telephone’. Moroccans have a much more extensive social network than the average European and they use this in a highly efficient way to keep abreast of the activities of hundreds of people. During a conversation, tens of people may briefly break in. In the tourist cities, the guides and traders use the same system to pass on information on new visitors. Within a few hours, dozens of people know where you are from, in which hotel you are staying and what you bought, and they do like to show you that they know.

Besides, they all have relatives and friends who live in the area where you are from. This is a way for them to prove there is a relationship. If this confuses you, remember it is their way to know what you are interested in and which price level they can offer you. If you tell someone that you are in Morocco for the first time and stay at a five-star hotel, they will immediately ask double the amount they will charge someone who says he has been to Morocco before and stays at a simple medium-range hotel.

Women and dress
Women need to cover themselves as fully as possible, preferably with long sleeves, no low-neck lines and a knee-length skirt. In larger cities such as Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech you can be less severe. Women with long blond hair would be wise to wear a headscarf if they dislike attracting unpleasant male attention. Only in Agadir and other larger beach resorts is it possible to be less covered. Swimming in a swimming costume or bikini is OK there, however, you cannot wear it on the street. Men can wear shorts (you’ll stand out but it is not offensive), but a bare chest is not done.

In General
Be aware that you are visiting a country where people have different ways. It is not them that behave deviantly; it is you that is different.