Marhaba Bikum! Welcome!
While tourism is dwindling in other Arab-majority countries, such as Lebanon and Egypt, many are coming to discover the unique culture and beauty of Morocco. It’s seriously so neat. For people who enjoy physical activities, Morroco’s varied terrain is perfect for hiking, camel trekking, skiing, as well as surfing. For those who enjoy history and culture, the thousand-year-old cities are full of relics from the Almoravids in the twelfth century, to the French in the twentieth century. History is preserved in the ornate mosques and universities, as well as in the traditional handicrafts sold in the streets. And then of course, there’s the mint tea, couscous, tagine, and that famous Moroccan hospitality. Morocco has something for everybody.
However, I remember being nervous before coming to Morocco. I had nightmares about wearing the wrong clothing or offending the locals. In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to worry so much; Moroccans are quite understanding, even with the most oblivious tourists.
Even so, here are the answers to some questions that you might have before your trip:
What language is spoken there?
The two national languages are Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, and Tamazight, the language of the native Amazight people. French, too, is widely spoken due to generations of colonial rule and Morocco’s ties with the West. But if you aren’t familiar with any of these languages, don’t worry. Due to tourism, Morocco has also hopped aboard the English train. In big cities, you will be able to communicate with most shop-keepers, waiters, hotel owners, and taxi drivers.
If you have the time, it’s a great idea to learn some basic Darija phrases. Just pull up Youtube and you’ll find what you need.
What’s appropriate dress?
Please, oh, please don’t wear the headscarf here unless your Muslim. Maybe this doesn’t actually bother locals, but it looks ridiculous, especially when it’s paired with a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, no one expects you to appear exactly like a local. Just think ‘mildly modest’ when you pack your bag. In bigger cities, it’s usually a good idea for woman to cover their knees and shoulders. If you go off the beaten path, maybe cover your elbows too. As for men, just don’t go around shirtless.
I know no one likes feeling restricted, but if you end up in a Moroccan home, culturally-appropriate dress will make everyone feel more comfortable around you.
Is it safe?
I’ve never felt that my safety has been threaten during my time here. That being said, I have changed my behavior some to fit the circumstances. For instance, I don’t walk around in big cities alone at night, especially in places like Fez that have very narrow and winding streets. I am very careful about alcohol consumption, avoiding bars and music festivals. I also am always aware of the gender-ratio in any cafe or restaurant, avoiding places that only have male customers.
What is harassment like?
Catcalling is definitely an issue, but I find it important to look at things through a cultural lens. Young men and women don’t have many places to meet each-other. Sure they have the internet, but they can’t pick each-other up at bars or school dances. Even cafes are some times out of the question because traditionally they aren’t seen as a proper place for women. Therefore, where can men and women meet each-other? The street, of course. So when someone says, hey beautiful, to you as you are walking, they may be doing so because that’s how they got their last date, or met their last girlfriend.
However, it should be said that foreign women are treated differently than Moroccan women. Through the media or whatnot, there is a preconception that western women are more sexually available than their Moroccan counterparts. Men here have said things to me that I can’t imagine them saying to a member of their community. Just yesterday, my taxi driver asked me if I wanted to go to a hotel room with him – after asking if I wanted to marry him. It seems as though some Moroccan men see foreign women as a safe place to dump their pent-up sexual energy. It can certainly be exhausting, but I’ve found a firm ‘no’ to be very effective.
What’s the situation on alcohol?
Morocco isn’t the ideal drinking spot as alcohol is expensive and hard to find. Most restaurants don’t serve it and liquor stores are sparse. Furthermore, you have to be careful as to which bars you frequent. Watering holes that are connected to touristy hotels are always a safe bet. However, many of the more obscure bars/hotel combos double as brothels. So it’s a good idea to do your research, or better yet, buy your own alcohol at a Carrefour. This French supermarket sells every type of alcohol you could need in what they call La Cave.
Yes, Morocco is one of the main exporters of hashish. No, don’t try it. You never know what’s in there and plus, many of the men selling it on the street double as cops.
What’s the best time to go to Morocco?
Summer is hot, like a consistent 105 F in Fez and Marrakesh, so maybe pick a different time. Also, think seriously before coming during Ramadan. Not only are the majority of restaurants and cafes closed during the day, but transportation is also scarce as no-one wants to work when they aren’t eating. However, the streets are pretty much empty which means, little to no harassment. Yay!
Can I drink the water?
I drink the water every day, all the time, and it’s delicious. However, it took my body about a week and a half to get used to it. So, if you have a shorter trip, maybe stick to bottled water.
What’s the deal with money?
The Moroccan currency is the Dirham. Ten Dirhams are worth roughly one dollar. You can’t get Dirhams outside of the country, so bring in some bills and exchange money at the airport. As most places don’t take credit cards, you’ll have to call your bank and find out what the fees are for withdrawing cash from ATMS. Also make sure to tell them you’re going to Morocco so your credit card still works.
Do people tip?
It is not required, but if someone provides you with a good service, it’s nice to leave a Dirham or two.
Do people haggle?
You are expected to haggle on everything, apart from basic needs such as toothpaste or bread. If someone is selling you a dress or a porcelain bowl, do not accept the first or second price.
Any weird items I should pack?
Bring toilet paper or tissues, hand sanitizer, anti-acid pills for stomach aches, and Dramamine if you get sick on winding roads. If you are a light sleeper, pack ear plugs so that you don’t wake up at the 4am Call to Prayer. Also, bring a marriage certificate if you and your spouse have different last names. It might help when checking into hotels.
Any cultural things I need to be aware of?
Don’t go into mosques if you’re not Muslim and don’t take pictures of people unless you ask. If you are lucky enough to go into someones house, take your shoes off before stepping on a carpet. That’s where people pray, so treat it with special respect.
As American politics are all over the news, don’t be surprised if someone asks you about our President. Moroccans tend to really like Americans and cite a long history of Moroccan/American friendship. However, it’s maybe not the best idea give excessive verbal support of our President at this current time.
Kissing isn’t even allowed on television, so you can bet that PDA is not appropriate in public settings. That being said, you will see many Moroccan men holding hands with each-other as a sign of friendship. However, if you, a foreigner do the same thing, you might find yourself in a tricky scenario.
Don’t be frightened away by cultural differences. Morocco is different from America, but that’s what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. The pace of life is slower and hospitality reigns. I have spent nine months here and there’s still so much more that I want to explore.
Please let me know if you have any questions, additions, or corrections.