Cultural Tips in Morocco
Cultural Tips in Morocco
As with travel to all locations in the world it is important to respect the social and cutural norms of Morocco. This will ensure that you are welcomed and get the best possible reaction from our hosts.
However, you do not need to worry about causing offence by failing to observe subtle details of Moroccan culture. The main thing is that you behave respectfully and in a friendly way. If at any point you are unsure of what might be expected of you, just look around at what others are doing or simply ask.
Morocco is mainly Muslim in its religious observation and as such many of its customs stem from Islamic beliefs. You will certainly notice the 'call to prayer' in Marrakech and up in the mountains at Imlil. The Moroccan staff will also disappear at various points during the day to pray.
Moroccan Concept of Time
One thing that sometimes takes a bit of getting used to is the local Moroccan interpretation of time. In common with many places in Africa, it is not considered unusual for things to run on a fairly relaxed schedule. For example, it is not unusual for a breakfast set for 8am to arrive at 8:30am or even later. In the UK and a lot of other western countries is is considered rude or unprofessional to be anything more than a few minutes late. However, lateness does not imply this connotation in Morocco. Therefore, it is necessary to be patient and try not to be offended if timings start to slip a bit.
How to Greet People in Morocco
The usual verbal greeting would be "Salam oo-alley koom" or just "Salam" and in most cases a handshake. The normal reply would be "Oo-alley koom salam". Sometimes people will touch their hear or kiss their hand directly after shaking your hand, as a mark of particular respect or affection. A lot of Moroccans, especially those who regularly deal wth tourists will simple say "hello", "Bonjour" etc based on their assessment of where they think you are from! When meeting a female Moroccan they may offer their hand for you to shake. However, if they do not offer their hand then a slow bowing of the head will be appropriate instead. Moroccans who are good friends are likely to kiss each cheek and may have a more lingering handshake. They may also stand with a hand on each others shoulder or hold hands.
A Note about Moroccan Women
The interaction with Moroccan women can vary greatly. In Marrakech you may see young Moroccan women in very western outfits with uncovered hair and riding mopeds. You may also visit businesses such as a riad where a woman may be the main manager and interact freely with you. However, in general you will probably observe that many women dress and behave very conservatively and reserved and may just be 'hovering in the background'. In this case, it is appropriate to acknowledge them but they may become uncomfortable if you attempt to engage them in too direct or open a manner.
How Should I Dress in Morocco?
All persons should dress 'modestly', this is especially true of female visitors. For general guidance you should keep your upper arms to the elbow and upper legs to the knee covered. In addition, tops should not finish above the waistline of your trousers and expose your mid-riff and your neckline should not extend down more than a few inches. In some situations it will be appropriate for women to cover their head and hair with a scarf. You should look around to see if others are doing so or ask one of the Moroccan's accompanying you.
What is Appropriate Behavior in Morocco?
Try to conduct yourselves in a generally calm and reasonably quiet manner. As a guide simply observe the local Moroccans around you and try not to be significantly louder or more boistrous than them.
Can I show Public Displays of Affection in Morocco?
Public displays of affection between a male and a female, such as kissing, is not considered appropriate and should be avoided. You may notice Moroccan men walking or standing holding hands, this is normal between good friends and does not indicate anything beyond platonic friendship.
A Note About Hands
Some Muslims may consider the left hand to be unclean. You should always therefore shake hands, eat or offer and receive with the right hand.
A Note About Feet
Feet and shoes are often considered ritually unclean, avoid sitting with them up in the air or stepping over someone sitting on the ground. Also ensure that where you sit you will not force others to step over you. When entering a home or guest house always assume that you should remove your shoes. In some cases the host may say that you don't need to but it would still be appropriate to do so, perhaps making the excuse that they are dirty.
Food and Drink of Morocco
It is common for food to be eaten with your hand from a communual tagine or dish. You may therefore be offered a bowl to wash your hands in before eating. In this situation you just hold your hands over the bowl and the host will pour water over them to allow you to wash. There is a technique to mashing and scooping up the food with a small piece of bread, just copy the locals or ask them to teach you, it can be good fun.
Can I Enter a Mosque in Morocco?
It will usually be the case that if you are a non-Muslim you will not be able to enter mosques or the immediate area of some religious shrines. If you are unsure then simply ask.
Can I Haggle in Morocco?
As with many nations, there is a culture of negotiating prices in Morocco. If there is a price marked on an object then it is almost certainly inappropriate to negotiate on the price unless perhaps you are buying many items at once. However, if the price is not marked then you may begin the fine art of haggling. The vendor will quote you a price to begin with, depending on whether you are in the tourist district of a large town or in a village market the starting price may be somewhere from ten to one and a half times the going rate. At this point you will need to make a judgement call. On the one hand, paying over the odds can drive up expectations and prices generally for everyone including locals. On the other hand, driving the price of a souvenir down by the equivalent of 25 pence will make virtually no difference to you but may change the weekly income of a rural family by a few percent.
Tipping in Morocco
Tipping in Morocco is expected in hotels. 10-20 Dirhams should suffice for bags and cleaning services. At restaurants tip 10-15% of the bill if a surcharge has not already been added. For taxis, round up your fare.
Tipping guides and porters is not mandatory, but it certainly is appreciated. For more information on tipping please see our tipping guide.
Sustainability Issues in Morocco
At Adventure Alternative we promote sustainable tourism. This means that we advise against using disposable plastic water bottles. Treat water with a bag filter, iodine, or a SteriPen instead. Also, avoid using plastic bags by bringing your own cloth bag for shopping. Limit the use of toilet paper by using a Shewee or a pee rag for number 1 bathroom trips in rural areas. Don’t litter, and always dispose of your waste in proper containers.
Festivals and Holidays
Morocco is a predominantly Muslim nation. So all Muslim holidays are observed. However, do take note that the Islamic calendar is different than the western calendar. For up to date information, research when Islamic holidays fall on the calendar year you are traveling.
Other notable holidays and festivals include:
Marathon des Sables: Every year competitors from around the world partake in a 6-day race through the Morocaan Desert. Happens in April
The Rose Festival: Celebrates the rose harvest in Kalaa de Mgouna. Held in May.
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music: Held in June, this festival celebrates spiritual dances and songs. With whirling dervishes, chanters, and mystics this festival provides a unique look into the culture and customs of Morocco.
Essauira Gnawa and World Music Festival: This festival is held in Essaouira an celebrates the music and acrobatics of the Gnawa. Held in June.
Marrakech Popular Arts Festival: A national festival celebrating folk music, fortune tellers, snake charmers, fire swallowers and acting troupes.
Imichil Marriage Festival: This is a Berber marriage festival where up to 40 couples get married in the High Atlas Mountains. Happens in August.
Erfoud Date Festival: Early October the Erfoud region celebrates the date harvest with dance, food, and folk music.