Morocco, though considered in the west, has its own cultural values and norms apart from the West. What may be OK to do on the beach in Spain may actually be illegal just forty-five minutes south in Morocco. If you know one thing about Morocco, you probably know that it is a Muslim country, or perhaps, you know it’s an Arab country. Given this, there are certain ways to behave especially in public in the country where Allah watches all. If you’re planning a Morocco trip with a local travel agency and your itinerary has you venturing through city and village alike, keep in mind these simple rules of etiquette.
The very first heads-up goes to all you who prefer the spaghetti strap over the long sleeve jumper. Mostly, it’s the ladies we’re talking about here, though guys generally dress conservatively as well, unless you’re at the beach (then all the rules are bent). Ladies, be sure to cover any bare skin, above your ankles and above your wrists. In cities like Rabat and Casablanca, however, these rules are also slightly bent, especially if you’re dressed smartly for the office or a night on the town.
Whatever you do, though, don’t dress this way in the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains. If your esteem comes from getting those heels on and limping over donkey droppings and rolling rocks, you may not fit in well here. Some women even wear shawls or a headscarf, though this also depends on where you are geographically. Whatever the case, conservative dress will always be appreciated. Guys, you can pretty much dress how you want, though most Moroccans, whether rich or poor, try to spruce up when heading out of doors. Keep this in mind before sporting those Under Armor shorts and cut-off T.
Another good rule of thumb when traveling to Morocco is to learn to do everything with your right hand. The left hand, as you may not know, is reserved for bathroom duties and other cleaning chores. The right hand, however, is used to shake hands with, eat with and pretty much do everything else with. Even if you’re left handed, give it a good fake here. Also, a greeting is sometimes a handshake but more often than not a small kiss to both the left and right side of the cheek is a proper greeting. Often, men will not do this with women their senior. We recommend duck taping your left hand a week or two before coming so you get used to this habit if you find it impossible to get used to.
When you’re invited over to someone’s house for dinner—and it happens to everyone—you’ll need to know a few tricks of the trade. For starters, you’ll need to get used to sitting around a communal table. On this table, the food is often served in one large bowl to everyone at once. Essentially, you can eat and even double-dip out of your section of the bowl. How do you know your section? It’s easy: cut the bowl with your eyes into fours, sixes or eighths—the number equal to the people sitting round the table. That “triangle” then is your personal trough. You can eat as much as you want but be sure to stay within the boundaries. The meat is often in the middle of the dish and can be grabbed with hunks of hobbs (bread) and eaten at will.
One last counsel of advice is to make sure you bring a gift when you’re invited to someone’s house. One communalist gift should do nicely. Before venturing over for dinner, get a box of pastries or other sweet. Moroccans love a good sugary snack. If you’d like to prevent teeth from rotting out, you can bring a gift(s) for the child of the family. Sometimes the gifts are open on sight or opened later once you leave. This all depends on familiarity. Once you enter the house, be sure to remove your shoes and set them by the door. If any one else enters the room, stand up and give them notice and then continue eating. Moroccans are very humble and friendly people who have a general decorum to follow. You can easily do the same now. From the north sea to the south of the Sahara Desert on a tour you’ll have a good head start to integrating well into a society that loves new visitors.
by Terry for JBT