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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
6. Moroccans: Arabs vs.
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.
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.
The Moroccan version of the Hand of Fatima.
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.
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.
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.