If you’re a woman packing for your first trip to Morocco, chances are you’ve wondered what should go in your suitcase. And once you, arrive, do you know what to do when the owner of your riad is introducing you to a male relative? What’s the appropriate greeting?
Amanda Mouttaki, a native of Wisconsin in the United States and author of Maroc Mama, a blog about Moroccan cuisine, knows a thing or two about women’s travel in Morocco. Her expertise is informed not only by the time she has spent in the country, but also by her passion for Moroccan culture and cuisine, which is inspired by her bicultural life with her Moroccan husband.
“My best advice is to dress modestly,” she says, though Hollywood would have women travelers believe otherwise.
Sex and the City 2 was filmed in Morocco (even though the story takes place in Abu Dhabi). Though the modesty of the clothing worn by Carrie Bradshaw and her friends in the film varies dramatically from one scene to another, you should leave revealing items at home. When packing for your trip, swap your tank tops for sleeved shirts (or bring complementary articles to cover your shoulders) and opt for long skirts instead of shorts.
Showing too much skin as you wander the medinas can attract unwanted attention and even judgmental glances. You’ll also be denied entrance into mosques with bare shoulders. Even in a trendy nightclub, it’s best to avoid low-cut tops and short skirts.
Planning to swim? The norms are more lax on beaches, where swimwear is acceptable.
And speaking of unwanted attention, Mouttaki says that one of the greatest advantages of dressing modestly is that it helps prevent cat calls and unwelcome advances. During her first trip to Morocco, Mouttaki and her sister felt somewhat harassed at times. “At first we smiled and brushed it off, but we came to understand that ignoring the attention was the only way to make it go away,” she says.
It’s also important to note that a seemingly polite smile can easily be misinterpreted. While appropriate dress may prevent this from being an issue, be prepared to ignore the attention and even be firm in telling someone to go away. Moutakki says women should feel comfortable saying “imshee” to suggest that someone buzz off.
Many people find that traveling with another person in unfamiliar territory makes them feel safer, and the same is true with Morocco. This is especially true when venturing out at night.
“If you’re staying in a riad and there is an evening event you’d like to attend, ask the owners if there is someone that might accompany you that could be trusted,” Moutakki says. She also suggests looking into partially guided tours, which offer time for independent exploration allowing you to taste some solo adventure while also creating opportunities to meet other travelers.
If you talk with fellow travelers or get to know the owners of your riad, you might get an opportunity to mix with some locals. Handshakes are a customary greeting in Morocco when meeting someone for the first time. Expect a handshake that is gentler than what is typical in much of the West. Moroccan men wait for women to initiate a handshake, and between two women, either person can initiate.
One of the most important things that women traveling in Morocco should realize is that they aren’t the first to do so, and they certainly won’t be the last. Plenty of women have traveled through Morocco with their girlfriends or even solo.
Morocco is relatively liberal compared to what you might encounter in other Muslim countries. Nonetheless, the culture is still more conservative than that of its neighbors across the Mediterranean, particularly when it comes to expectations of women. Though you may encounter some establishments that are not as welcoming for women (such as neighborhood bars that are patronized primarily by men), adapting to and respecting local norms should help you safely explore most places in Morocco as long as you are alert and apply common sense.
Written by Shelley A. Gable, instructional designer and freelance writer.
Photo by mhobl.