Local Do's & Taboos
Customs of the Country
Moroccans are known to be polite, friendly, and curious about visitors to their country. However, Morocco is a very hierarchical society; so people are dealt with according to their position in the hierarchy, not the order in which they happen to arrive. In markets this phenomenon is modified: someone selling vegetables will deal with several customers at once, so don't wait meekly to be served in turn. Be aware locals do not always say what they mean: what they say can be governed by the desire to please or, in the case of less-charitable characters, the perception of what will work to their advantage. You don't need to take all these guidelines into account for simple transactions like buying train tickets, but they'll help in more complicated situations.
Within and between the sexes, the two-cheek air kiss is customary when greeting and saying good-bye and is likely the closest thing to a public display of affection you will observe between a Moroccan man and woman. While this is a moderate Islamic society, it's best to adhere to modesty in public. In rural, more conservative areas, you will only see such greetings among people of the same sex.
With the exception of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and the Tin Mal Mosque in the High Atlas, non-Muslims may not enter mosques.
Except at the beach, tank tops and shorts are not acceptable for either sex anywhere in Morocco, even in the hottest weather. Both women and men should cover up their arms and legs if they want better service and a friendly rapport with Moroccans; in the countryside locals consider T-shirts and shorts to be the same as underwear, and wearing such will increase the potential for harassment, especially for women. Apart from this, casual clothing is quite acceptable for tourists.
Out on the Town
If you're invited to someone's home, do not enter until invited to do so. In more-traditional homes you'll be expected to leave your shoes at the door. Greet the assembled company in turn, starting with the person on your right. Moroccan hospitality can be extremely generous. It's not unusual to have two main meat dishes. For all food served in a communal dish and meant to be eaten by hand, be sure to use only your right hand. It's customary to socialize before the meal rather than afterward, so food is not served upon guests' arrival, and it's acceptable to leave shortly after tea at the end of the meal.
Business appointments aren't usually scheduled more than a week in advance and should be reconfirmed by phone the day before. Schedules are often changed at the last moment if something of higher priority comes up, so the prudent business traveler should always have a contingency plan in case meetings don't materialize. Punctuality is not a virtue: whatever time you're given is approximate, so don't expect to keep a series of tightly scheduled appointments. Never start a meeting by coming immediately to the point of business; always start with general conversation. Sensitive questions are approached politely and indirectly. Business cards are always appreciated.
It's generally fine to address business contacts by their first name. Moroccans use the respectful "Sidi" to precede last names. Note that with male business associates and acquaintances, inquiring about female spouses is not appropriate. Instead, one is asked about his "house" and the health of family members.
Moroccans tend to dress more formally than Americans in business dealings. Business attire is usually coat and tie for men and business skirt or slacks for women. A small gift or token is appreciated but never expected.
The main spoken language in Morocco is Moroccan Arabic, which has fewer vowels than other dialects and includes a number of Spanish and French words. There are also three Amazigh (Berber) languages—Tarifit, in the northern Rif; Tamazight, in the Middle Atlas and eastern High Atlas; and Tashelhit, in the western High Atlas, Souss Valley, and Anti-Atlas. French is widely spoken. There is no difference between the French spoken here and that used in France, except perhaps the presence of fewer colloquialisms, so any standard French phrase book will serve you well. There's usually no problem communicating in English at hotels and bigger restaurants. The official written languages are Arabic and French, and most signs are written in both, so you don't need to know Arabic script to find your way around. Numerals within Arabic script are the same Arabic numerals we use in English (unlike those used in Middle Eastern countries).
It's difficult to learn Moroccan Arabic on location, because unless you look like a Moroccan you will nearly always be addressed in French. Generally, a good French phrasebook will be of much more use than an Arabic one. Still, it's useful to know some key words for proper greetings and for situations where no one speaks French.
Language Programs. Courses in Moroccan Arabic are taught at the American Language Center in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakesh. The center in Fez, in collaboration with some American universities, also offers an excellent program in classical and Moroccan Arabic through its ALIF (Arabic Language in Fez—alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) program. The Centre Culturel Français offers French courses in all major cities.
The Center for Cross-Cultural Learning in a beautiful 19th-century building in the Rabat medina has excellent courses in Fus'ha (Classic Arabic), Darija (Moroccan Arabic), and the Amazigh (Berber) languages. They offer intense learning sessions of two weeks as well as courses lasting two to three months. They also offer private lessons, lecture series, and occasional cultural tours with language learning.
Larger cities have many small companies offering classes in French and Moroccan Arabic, but quality and prices vary. Local public universities have been known to offer courses at greatly reduced prices (the same tuition charged Moroccan students) to foreigners staying in Morocco for a longer stint.Updated: 03-2013
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