Morocco is such a beautiful country : beautiful landscape, a diverse nature, mountains, a gorgeous Sahara desert, a vibrant culture, souks and Riads that look like they’re the scenery of an Arabian fairy tale, a rich musical multiplicity, delicious food… The culture of Morocco is a melting pot of Arab, Berber, Mediteranean, African, Andalusian and Hispanic cultures. So there’s no surprise that millions of tourists visit the country each year, Morocco’s economy is actually based on tourism. But the culture shock might sometimes be huge. So I thought I could help the internet community with these 7, very useful, things to know about Morocco before visiting the country for the first time, so as to avoid the cultural shock barrier and spend the most enjoyable time in the Moroccan land.
- Morocco is a third world country. Big cities might have all the latest technologies and buildings, but poverty is a real crisis in the country so you might see it a lot, especially if you visit the medina, where 70% of people there are either deprived or in an unstable condition. So seeing beggars, fake tourist guides asking for money, people laying in the streets… can be a drawback to some, but hey it’s the reality of thousands of people, not only in Morocco but all around the world. But don’t fall into the trap of encouraging such behaviours, if you want to help that miserable lady with her child at the corner of the souk, get her child to a school or childcare association instead of giving her easy money, she won’t use it to sort her way out of begging but keep believing everyone will just hand her money out of pity without her ever considering looking for a job. (Some extreme beggars borrow children and force them to ask for money, work in prostitution, run ‘slumdog’ mafias.. so don’t help financing it by any ways, if you want to give back to the world or help improve people’s situation, volunteer at organizations and donate to certified Ngo’s and associations, they will help, support and efficiently look for ways to end this phenomenon).
- If it’s not pasta, lasagna, soup, steak, or if they’re not eating a fancy dish.. people will certainly, without an ounce of doubt, eat with their hands. So 80% of the food you’ll get will come with tons of bread and no forks or knives so that you can ‘dive’ in the dish, literally. The ‘way too famous’ Tajine as an example is served in one big plate and everyone picks a piece of bread and starts eating as a sign of love and trust in his peers eating with him. Moroccan culture is really about the community and family rather than individualism, so it runs in the blood of everyone that some meals such as lunch should be eaten with the family in the same plate so as everyone can get the same amount of food and that all hands, no matter their differences, share the dish as one. Some may like it, accept it, try it… others may think eating with hands is nasty. But in the end, you’re the tourist, so either you accept that people have different customs, or you don’t.
- Street harassment does occur. Moroccan women might ignore this because they learned how to pay no attention to the guy’s comments about our banging butt or dazzling eyes. We’re most of the time with good company and never stroll in dark alleys in the center of the medina on our own or in other unsafe neighbourhoods where guys most likely spend more time sitting in the streets than reading a book or looking for a job. So in the end, we (Moroccan girls) might not be that bothered by street harassment in our lives, forgetting that every female traveller can be subject to at least one weird look or comment, if not a way more serious sexual harassment. And this is really a topic that drives me mad, it drives me crazy to see how dumb some guys can act, thinking that because you’re a female or a foreigner, they can harass you, insult you or just treat you badly. And when things get out of hand, they blame the clothing or situation (as an example: wait she’s the one who came here at 1am), but let me tell you it has nothing to do with how you’re dressed or the place you’re seeing, but with the cultural and educational background of the idiots who think harassment comes out of manhood and doesn’t cause any harm. I got more comments wearing a hijab on my way out of the hammam in a pretty ‘precarious’ neighbourhood that doesn’t go empty thanks to all the kids and boys wandering in the streets all day and all night (and then their parents wonder why their sons and daughters turn into thiefs, criminals and prostitutes) than wearing mini shorts in a neighbourhood where guys actually got an education from their parents. So I blame the raising of these boys, nobody thought them that the girls they see in the streets could be their sisters, their mothers, their aunts… Anyhow, all I can tell you, is that not all Moroccan guys are horny perverts, that’s for sure!! 99% of the guys I know are wonderful, they’re well educated, respect and value women. So to all solo female travellers, I tell you you’re totally safe as long as you stay away from dark alleys. Try to copy on what the locals are wearing, if you’re a big city or in a beach town, wearing more revealing clothes is considered to be normal, but if you’re going to a medina, a remote village or a smaller-less known place, try to cover up a little to respect the conservative locals.
- The biggest nightclubs are usually packed with hookers and pimps. Big touristic cities like Marrakech and Agadir are the most famous for having a big number of prostitutes just walking around, talking to foreigners and monetizing their work. So if you’re a solo male, or a group of guys who enjoys the nightlife, or if a hooker randomly offers you her service, just ignore her or tell her to get lost. The prostitutes will more likely think you’re a little shy or that you didn’t like her in particular(they can’t lose a client so easily), so just be consistent and tell them you’ll tell the police if they don’t leave you alone (they’ll run as fast as they can in their 14cm high heels). Oh, and just for any travellers thinking it wouldn’t be a big problem having some fun with one of these call-girls, remember that the sentence for this kind of activities can go from 5 to 10 years strict, and if she’s a minor it’s even worse: 25 years, if not more. And because you’re a foreigner, tipping the ‘corrupted’ police officers wouldn’t even work to get yourself out of it. The police hates people, mostly foreigners, so they will act like a little shit with you no matter if it’s because of prostitution, drug use, illegal traffic… So stay out of trouble.
- The weather is not always hot. Not at all. The big touristic Marrakech is, for sure, a damn hot city, but during the night or in the winter it’s freezing; other cities may not be as temperate as you think. Even the desert gets bloody cold in the night, so always carry a jacket or sweater with you so you don’t worry about this detail while you should be out there having fun. Before coming here, it would be best to google the places you’re visiting and search any clues that may help you decide what type of weather you should expect (the sweatshirt is a must regardless). But just because I’m a nice person, here’s a little brief list of weathers in the most commonly visited cities during summer time. Marrakech-Fes-Meknes: hot as fuck, Ouarzazate-Zagora: even hotter, consider it as a trip to a very beautiful oven; Casablanca-Rabat-Kenitra-Safi-Agadir: cities in the center and some beach cities have the most clement weather, it is perfect so not too hot and not too cold as well, Essaouira: aka windy city, northern cities such as Tangier, Chefchaouen, Saidia, Assila, Larache and Tetouan have that mediterranean type of weather, it’s slightly colder than the rest of Morocco so in my standards I’ll tell you it’s a bit cold, but the sun is up all the time and you could definitely hit the beach without freezing once, so I think the weather is pretty clement there as well.
- You have to love tea. If you’re from the U.K or China, drinking tea might already be something you do everyday, but if you’re not, then just get used to it already. Offering tea is a sign of affection, welcoming and friendship so you are definitely gonna drink that brown sugary liquid way more than expected. If you absolutely can’t bear the taste, then just tell your host/friend/tea-offerer you have some sort of mortal disease or that you’re grandmother just died because any other excuse will sound like a huge offense and a very unfriendly gesture of you. Us Moroccans, me included sometimes I must admit, just can’t imagine why would somebody hate tea. My advice would be to pretend you’re a very, very slow tea drinker.
- Most people you’ll encounter will be glad to share their culture with you, learn new things, listen to your stories, help you around (sometimes going all the way), open their house, kitchens and hearts to you giving you all they have (even if it’s very little)… So being offensive or disrespectful will really make your time here a living hell. Moroccan people just don’t accept that sort of bullshit, they don’t think it’s ok to be a jerk and will personally make sure you regret the jerkness of your acts by an even jerk’ier behaviour. So you can’t show up, condemn everything and everyone you don’t agree with in the culture, take advantage of the hospitality and nativity of some, act rude with everyone around you and not take in consideration their background, culture, religion… And then expect people to be friendly. Thank your hosts, smile at the people you meet, show them you genuinely care. They say: “When in Rome, do as the romans do”, but in real life you don’t need to change your name to Ahmed, get super tan (actually you do, you just can’t go back looking that pale) and play football in the streets at midnight, you just need to respect the culture you just entered and try to have the best time here. I don’t even recommend you to hire a guide, as they’ll all take you to overly priced, tourist traps, leaving you with nothing but an unauthentic idea of Morocco, they might even guide you to huge rip offs and scams (making you believe you just got a one in a life time deal), I suggest you take part of a couch surfing event or talk to locals or expats living here and try to see the country by their eyes, they’ll gladly show you around and make you feel at home. You will then discover the real Morocco. Not just camel tours, riads, souks and medinas.
That’s it for today’s post, I tried to make it as helpful and true as possible, so I hope you liked it. If you have any questions, comments, recommendations or even critics, leave that in the section below and I’ll be glad to respond. Have a wonderful trip to Morocco, and if not: just an incredible day full of laughter, love and delicious food.