Moroccan Culture 101

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Morocco is often referred to as the gateway to Africa, and with its unique blend of Berber, West African, Jewish and Mediterranean influences all coming together in crowded ancient cities and captivating landscapes- it’s easy to see why.

The most common question I got before traveling to Morocco was regarding safety, and I’m happy to report I definitely felt safe in my 2 weeks in Marrakech and Chefchaouen. Petty crime like pick-pocketing is a part of life in Morocco, however the punishment for violence is very heavy and it is rare.

Moroccans are warm and hospitable by nature, and if you make friends with a local, you may even be invited into their home for tea or dinner, or even to stay the night! It’s not uncommon to see friends of the same sex holding hands or embracing in the street, although more affectionate displays are always kept private.

As a tourist you will be a fun target in the city medinas for shop and restaurant owners to try to lure in. Eye contact will assure long-lasting attention, so if you are not interested in what is being offered, avoid it and kindly decline.

As a traveler, you'll be able to get by with English, but don’t assume that everyone will speak it, especially in remote areas. It would be helpful to know a few words of Arabic, French or even Spanish.

Useful History

The first written history of Morocco was by the Phoenicians around 1,000 BC, and the native Berber tribesman began forming settlements around 400 BC. The area of Morocco went under Roman rule from ~100 BC to 5th century AD, and Arabs took control of Morocco (and Spain) and introduced Islam in the 8th century. For the next several hundred years there were strong kingdoms under both Arab and Berber rule.

Moroccans lost their independence and were under French control during the world war eras from 1912 to 1956. Since regaining independence, the Moroccan kingdom has flourished and the country even signed a new constitution in 2011, catapulting faster and more sound development than ever before.

It is a long time trade post between Africa, Europe and the Americas, and the melting pot of many cultures, languages, and traditions. The result makes Morocco a unique and heady place to say the least.


Getting Around Morocco & Basic Info

Currency:

The local currency is the Moroccan Dirham, and the exchange rate is about 10 dirham = $1 USD. I recommend getting dirhams out at an ATM when you arrive to the country. Many purchases are cash only, however you will find ATMs and money exchange storefronts in major cities.

What to wear in morocco

Local attire is the djellaba, and you will see clothing influenced by other religions as well. Conservative dress is expected, and women will want to cover shoulders and knees. Scarves, tunics, long dresses, kaftans, leggings and good walking shoes are all recommended.

Religion

Islam is the official religion, and the majority of Moroccan citizens are Sunni Muslims. If you are staying anywhere near a mosque, you will likely hear the call to prayer around 5am, and then four more times throughout the day. There are Jewish and Christian minorities as well.

Language

Berber and Arabic are the official languages of Morocco, however you will likely hear French and Spanish spoken as well.

Traveling in Morocco

There are several domestic airports in Morocco linking major cities, as well as reputable train services. I recommend booking any day tours ahead of time to avoid hassle, and a professional taxi service from the airport and for any self-organized day trips. It’s a good idea to make friends with a driver early in your trip and establish rapport and see if they have availability to help you out with multiple excursions.

Etiquette

Tipping and bargaining are part of the culture, and are expected and even requested. When shopping for local goods or services, bargaining is welcomed unless there are fixed prices explicitly written. Don’t take photos of people or shops without asking permission, and expect to pay a small amount for the photo (10 Dirham).

Food

Moroccan cuisine is known for vibrant spices, couscous on Fridays, and tasty stewed vegetables and meats. We also had more than our fair share of tajine (the traditional 7 veggie stew), bread with Amlou (nut butter blended with Argan oil), and of course, Moroccan mint tea.