You’ve probably heard stories about the incredible depths of Moroccan hospitality; let me tell you now, they’re all true. Many outsiders may think the lengths Moroccans will go to welcome you inside their homes and communities can seem like a farce, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s nearly impossible to spend any length of time in the country and avoid an invitation to tea. Shopkeepers will beckon you to share an afternoon break, your new shopping or hammam friend may invite you for lunch to meet the family or your Moroccan tour guide may even extend an invitation for dinner to help share his home and culture with you. In Morocco, neighbors regularly drop in unannounced and see their homes as open to the larger community.
Morocco is a country that keeps the public and the private very much distinct, and visiting a home is a wonderful opportunity to experience a different side of life. However, just as you would never kick off your shoes and put your feet up on a new acquaintance’s coffee table, there are certain things that are just not done when visiting a Moroccan home. So, how do you get the most out of your visit while making sure not to offend?
Here are a few things to keep in mind. Though these are simply guidelines—Moroccans know that visitors have different customs, and will not hold anything against you—they will certainly notice and appreciate the effort.
Bring a gift. – As in many other cultures, bringing a small gift for your host is considered good manners. Your gift need not be extravagant; a cone of sugar or a few sprigs of fresh mint are always appreciated and will be put to good use. You might also bring a small trinket from home, such as a postcard or small souvenir, if you have any on hand.
Take off your shoes. – Moroccans as a rule remove their shoes upon entering the home. Some families instead only remove shoes when walking into a carpeted room. Take a peek at the door frame before walking in; if you see a pile of sandals, take this as your cue to shuck the shoes.
Stay within your triangle. – If you are presented with couscous or tajine, you’re in for a real treat, but be aware of the geometry involved. While your host my present you with a separate plate, you will likely dine Moroccan style, eating from a large communal dish in the center of the table. Think of the plate as a pie; everyone gets an equally sized slice. Your portion is considered the invisible slice in front of you, and reaching into another person’s zone is a major taboo. As a guest, you may have others pushing some of the choice bits into your triangle, but never reach for that extra tasty looking olive yourself. Also, be prepared to go without common utensils—tajine is eaten with bread as a spoon, and couscous is often eaten by hand.
Be open. – If you have certain dietary restrictions or are a vegetarian, it’s okay to say so. While your hosts may be momentarily disappointed, they’ll probably chalk it up to you being a wacky foreigner rather than a rude guest. With that in mind, however, know that refusing food is considered a major offense, and simply ‘not caring’ for a certain dish will not sit well. If you really need an out, you can blame allergies, but do your best to clean the rest of your plate.
Drink the tea. – Finally, just drink the tea. Moroccans will drink a pot of sugary mint tea after every meal, and as an afternoon snack with bread or cookies. While you may be absolutely stuffed, or perhaps even sugared out, just drink it. You will make your hosts happy, and they will appreciate that you’ve joined in.
There you have it! Visiting a Moroccan home can be a wonderful experience, and one that leads to enormous cross-cultural exchange and understanding. It’s even more rewarding, however, when you have an idea of what to expect and how you can contribute. Enjoy your visit, and don’t forget to say bismillah!
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by Erwyn van der Meer.