13 Things to Know Before you Go to Morocco

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fes cafe

Things to Know Before you Go to Morocco: Coffee or tea?

 

You might find Morocco a unique culture upon arrival, but some western travelers take time acclimating to a country, its flavors, aromas and lifestyles.   I thought I’d share some of the things I learned about Moroccan culture from my guide. It’s helped shape my appreciation for the culture and lifestyle.

13 Things to Know Before you Go to Morocco

1.  Donkeys are the most popular animal

Our ‘illegal’ guide Outman, told us that ‘Donkeys are the taxis of Fes’! You’ll see many of them packing loads of cargo through the streets of Old Fes. They’re used for transporting goods and occasionally, Fes folk ride them.  If you hear someone behind you shout, “Halak!” then take the cue and get outta the way! It means someone with a donkey wants to pass.

Fez Donkey

They say, donkeys are the taxis for locals in Morocco

 

2.  Getting around in Fes

The way to skirt around between old Fes and new, is by taxi and there’s two types: petite and grande.

Petite taxis handle inner city transportation and run on a meter (make sure your driver is using one; it’s the law). Petite colors change per city; for instance, red is used in Fes and beige is in Marrakech.  Grande taxis are best for longer distances (i.e. to the airport) and are hired by flat rate, which you’ll negotiate with your driver before the trip.  Incidentally, here’s a helpful guide on using taxis.

Fez RCIF

Taxis waiting for customers and dropping them off at the RCIF.

 3.  Prayer Calls

At first you may thing there’s an air raid in the city, but the woven rumble of chanting that is sirened over a loudspeaker actually sounds peace. What you’re hearing are prayer calls and they’re coming from the mosques. Adhan (Arabic: “prayer calls“) occurs five times throughout the day, as part of the Muslim faith. It’s a cool experience, even if it wakes you from your slumber at 3 AM.  When adhan begins, watch able-bodied Muslims file in, lining up inside and around the mosque for worship.

prayer calls

Reasons you will love Morocco:  Prayer calls are five times a day

 

4.  Dining etiquette  in Morocco

Do as Moroccans do when dining– eat with your fingers!

However, you must use your right hand when eating and drinking and only your first three fingers to eat your food. To use anymore than three, is being “piggy”. Never use the left hand: it’s for the you-know-what duties.

eating in morocco

Okay, so you’re actually supposed use your first three fingers when eating, but eating food and drinking is done with your right hand.

 

5.  Ubiquitous Pictures of the King

Morocco has a royal family and king and you will find a picture of him hanging in every household and place of business!

Moroccan king picture

Pictures of the Moroccan king in every house and every shop (two photos of him are shown here)

 

6.  Moroccans: Arabs vs. Berbers

What would a country be without it’s racial tensions?  There’s two classes in Morocco: Arab- Moroccans and Berber-Moroccans. Berbers were the original natives of Morocco, until the Arab world took over. Thus, there’s a discrepancy between the two classes. Arab-Morrocans will say the Berbers are of the lower caste, because they’re simple mountain folk with a rural lifestyle; whereas they are more refined. It’s similar to the story of ‘City Mouse vs Country Mouse’.

But for travelers looking to buy souvenirs, what sets them apart is also their design and fabrics. The Berber style is a bit more folksy, native and simpler in design; their fabrics are of a rougher weave due to the fact they must withstand cold weather. Meanwhile, Arab-influenced tapestry is smooth to the touch and more ornate in design… more Arabic.

Both are beautiful and symbolic of the two natures of Moroccan life.

moroccan berber carpets

Berber carpets

 

7.  Superstition and the Hand of Fatima

Moroccans are superstitious. The Hand of Fatima or the ‘Eye of Fatima’ is an ornate hand symbol used in amulets, charms, jewelry, mendhi designs, door entrances, etc… Often it looks like a mendhi hand and is said to offer protection against jealousy and bad wishes. This symbol is also to invite good luck, abundance and patience. Below is a rudimentary Berber version of it, used as a door handle design.

hand of fatima

A Berber door holds the a rudimentary version of the Hand of Fatima as it’s door handle

Hand of Fatima

The Moroccan version of the Hand of Fatima.

hand of fatima

Hand of Fatima, Photo: Wikipedia

 

8.  Moroccans and their TV

It’s said that 80% of the homes in Fes have television. Looking over the buildings of Fes, satellite dishes and tv antennas decorate the rooftops leading you to believe this might not be far from true.

Houses in Fez & their satellite tv

Houses in Fes with satellite dishes

  9. What do Moroccans speak

Ou est le toilette? …If you’ve taken a bit of high school French then you’ll have no problem getting around. French is the unofficial third most-spoken language in Morocco, after Arabic (the native language) and Berber (the second language).

English and Spanish are slowly entering the picture, primarily for the sake of commerce; but for the time being, I wouldn’t count on getting by on them.

women

10. Staying at a Moroccan riad

A riad literally means garden in Arab, but it is a traditional Moroccan house or palace characterized by the fact it’s built around a garden courtyard or fountain. The architecture can be very historic and rich in atmosphere.  See my review of Dar Seffaraine riad

11. The power of hope and faith in one word, Insha’Allah

We then took a four hour train ride from Casablanca to Fez. Friendly train chat with a Moroccan man across of us, armed us with the perfect Arabic- catch-phrase  to sum up events (& those to come…). Insha’Allah.  Basically, Moroccans use it for everything which they can’t predict. They use it in hope and times of  sarcasm.

12. Mint tea hospitality

Now and then, a Moroccan may invite you to take tea. Generally, they offer a sweetened mint leaf tea and it’s flavor is crisp, refreshing and yummy.

13. Are women travelers safe in Morocco?

Morocco is a Muslim community, where women are protected by the community against sexual crimes. In fact, if a man were to touch or sexually harass a woman in public, she could call attention to it and the community would jump in to help her out. Men touching women? A big no-no.

This doesn’t mean as a foreign female traveler, Moroccan men won’t attempt sexual harassment or cat calls as you walk by. Foreign women are generally not known to be as strict as Muslim women.

What are the reasons you will love Morocco?

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10 Comments. Leave new

The one thing I found again and again in Morocco were people who were only too happy to invite you into their homes for some Moroccan whiskey and a chat. Usually these were of the younger generation, with a beautifully sincere interest in connecting. What a fantastic way to see a bit of everyday Morocco living!

I too saw a lot of donkeys, particularly in Fez, but I would liken them more to pickup trucks than taxis. A guy we met in Sidi Rahal had us ride one but it was only for the photo op. We went the rest of our way on foot.

Morocco is indeed a fascinating place, I didnt know about the Hand of Fatima – though i do remember lots of painted hands!

Cheers,
Kevin

Reply

[…] about its food options or if it had anything for vegetarians. One of my favorite discoveries was a popular Moroccan dish called Tagine. Tagine is a Berber stew cooked slowly in a special dome-shaped clay pot. The dome is […]

Reply

Moroccan culture, cuisine and history is so rich. I have never been there, but after reading your article I must put Morocco on my bucket list. Looks like you loved the food there 🙂

Reply

Hello! I was browsing the web and stumbled upon this blog post.

I’m a Moroccan, mixed Arab and Amazigh (This means the same as Berber, except this is what we prefer to be called as the word ‘Berber’ actually comes from the word ‘Barbarian’ and is disrespectful), and I’d just like to correct a few things here.

What is Moroccans vs Berbers? Berbers in Morocco ARE Moroccans. I think you mean ARABS Vs Berbers. After all, Berbers are the original Moroccans. Which brings me to the next thing i wanted to point out.. Berber isn’t the SECOND language of Morocco. In Morocco we speak Darija, which is a blend of Tamazight (berber language), Arabic, and words which come from various over languages such as French and Spanish. Tamazight is the NATIVE language in Morocco, Arabic is the language brought to us by the Arabs who invaded. French is the second AND official language of Morocco..

But other than that, great post! I’m so glad you enjoyed Maroc. Bslama!

Reply

    @Maghrebia: Thanks so much for your comment and corrections! I really appreciate them and apologies if there’s been ignorance in my facts. I really did enjoy Morocco and hope to return.

    This all makes sense– I was talking to Arab-Moroccans on the Berber topic and there was a feeling of heavy discrimination, which I assumed was quite possibly due to Arab invasion at some point in history. They made that distinction, so I’m glad you’ve corrected me. I’ll make a change in my article! It’s really sad that Berbers in Morocco are seen in such a fashion by the Arab world and yet, every country that’s colonized another seems to have looked down on the natives and made them to seem inferior. tsk.tsk.

    The language part was very confusing to me and still is. Probably because of the diversity you just explained– what’s used vs. what’s origin in nature. I actually had to research a bit and found information competing with each other, which again might be due to this Arab-Berber kind of tension, etc… My information was probably more slanted to : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morocco , which obviously isn’t quite correct either. LOL. Thanks so much for your informative guidance!

    Reply

This was a great post. I’ve really got a desire to see the rest of the globe and you help me live a bit, albeit vicariously. I find this all so terribly fascinating and it makes me want to learn French so that I can get around in the Middle East (obviously French is a shortcut to actually learning Arabic). I’d be such a cool traveler if I could do that. Keep up the good stuff!

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    @Andrew: Thanks for dropping by again, Andrew! I’m all for shortcuts and all you need is a little “survival” language basics. French, Spanish, English are the most useful languages to know when you travel. 😉

    Reply

Nice article. I was in Fes in January 2011. For me Fez culture and Moroccan culture are pretty close to my original culture: Tunisian. But they are still some differences… I really loved that place and I hope you too…What did you eat over there?

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    @Tunimaal: Interesting. Would love to make it out to Tunisia sometime, as well as Algeria. I can’t imagine what a culture shock it must be for you to live in Japan now! Must be interesting being you. 😉 I mostly had the tagine and couscous. I don’t eat meat so I could only watch others eat in the food stalls of Marrakech. The breads were also interesting. I liked it.

    Reply

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