Many people have called Morocco home for hundreds of years and you’ll notice this in their local culture. Along with the native Berbers, the country has hosted a diversity of cultures including Phoenicians, Arabs, Sub-Saharan Africans, Romans and Spaniards.
Most people who live there today, however, identify as Berber or Arab or a mix of the two. Modern Standard Arabic and the Amazigh languages including Tashelheit are the official languages, though many Moroccans speak a number of other languages including English, French, and Spanish.
Though Moroccans are a very hospitable and tolerant of different cultures, ideas and ways of life, they are still a culture of strong beliefs and social norms, so any offense to them must be avoided no matter what. Things that might seem ordinary to you in your culture may be taken the wrong way as far as etiquette and culture in Morocco go. With this in mind, we’ve created a few tips to ensure that your visit to Morocco is both respectful and enjoyable.
Islam in Morocco
A majority of Moroccans are Muslim and this dictates many aspects of their lives including their everyday lives, the politics of the country, and even the laws of Morocco. One of those personal obligations is that Muslims must pray five times a day – – at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening and preferably at one of the many mosques in Morocco. Prayer times are listed in the newspapers every day, though you’ll probably hear the call to prayer echoing from the minarets a few minutes before prayer time.
Friday in Morocco is the holy day and everything is closed; in fact, many companies also close on Thursdays and Fridays making these two days their weekend.
If you happen to be in Morocco during Ramadan, there are a few things you’ll have to take into consideration while you’re there.
First, in Ramadan, all Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This means no eating, drink smoking, or even chewing gum. Most only work six hours a day, as well. If you’re not a Muslim, you don’t have to fast, but you do have to absolutely avoid eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum in public during Ramadan.
At sunset every night, Muslims gather with family and friends to break their fast. This is known as iftar. Eating and drinking often continue well into the night, with some even staying awake to eat before the dawn prayer.
In general, Morocco moves at a much slower pace during the month of Ramadan and shops may open and close at some rather unusual times, so plan accordingly.
Moroccan Family Values
The most important part of any Moroccan’s social relations is their family and each individual is always subordinate to the family. Families here consist of both the nuclear and extended family. Elders are highly respected and their opinions honored; thus, they often hold great influence over the rest of the family and their decisions.
As a result of these deep family bonds, you may see nepotism practiced throughout the country; however, in Morocco it is viewed as something positive because it is a show of support and respect for one’s family.
Moroccan Greetings and Gestures
When Moroccans greet each at the first meeting, handshakes are customary between individuals of the same sex. Once a relationship has developed, however, it is common for individuals of the same sex to kiss on both cheeks, starting with the left cheek.
Handshakes may be somewhat weak according to western standards and may be held longer than a Westerner is used to.
In any greeting taking place between men and women in Morocco, the woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should bow his head in greeting.
When entering a social function, shake hands with the person to your right and then continue around the room going from right to left. Likewise, when it’s time to leave, say goodbye to each person individually.
If you are invited to a Moroccan’s house bring sweet pastries, nuts, figs, dates or flowers to the hostess. You may also bring a small gift for their children, as it is seen as a gesture of affection. Unless your host drinks, do not bring alcohol as a gift under any circumstances.
You should dress smartly to show respect to your hosts, and don’t forget to remove your shoes upon entering the house. If you traveling with your spouse, check to see if he or she is invited, as some conservative Moroccans do not fancy mixed-sex groups and your significant other may have not been invited.
Mind your matters at the table. Food is generally served at a knee-high round table with the guest of honor sitting next to the host. Before the meal is served, a basin will be brought out for you to wash your hands. Hold your hands over the bowl, trying not to splash while water is poured over them. A towel will be provided for you to dry your hands.
Food is generally served in a communal bowl or on a com
munal platter. Do not start eating until your host blesses the food and begins to eat or tells you to start eating. Eat only from the portion in the communal bowl or platter in front of you. If you are the honored guest, you will have the choices foods in front of you, so there’s no need to reach across the bowl or platter.
Eat and drink only with your right hand and use either a piece of bread or your thumb and first to fingers to scoop your food.
Do not wipe your hands on a napkin when you’re finished as the wash basin will be brought out once again to wash your hands once everyone has finished eating.
You may have to drink water from a communal glass shared by everyone. If you’re uncomfortable with this, simple ask for a soft drink and you’ll be brought your own glass.
You will not go hungry as your host will insist that you keep eating as this is seen as a sign of good hospitality in Morocco.
So there you have a few tips that should get you through most any situation while you’re in Morocco. If you’re interested in learning more about Moroccan culture, or Arab culture in general, or if you’d like to start learning Arabic, stop by our website for more details. While you’re there, why not download the best way to learn Arabic – the Kaleela Arabic learning app? It’s free from Google Play and kaleela.com.
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