Morocco’s rich culture makes it an exciting, but sometimes bewildering place to visit. There are many cultural differences between Morocco and western countries. Some are obvious like religion and food, and some are more subtle like communication styles and views of money.
Even being a little cultural savvy will make your trip more relaxing and enjoyable for you — and the Moroccans you encounter! Here are 10 cultural tips to help make the most out of your experience in Morocco.
Tips for respecting Moroccan traditional values
As you prepare for your visit, keep in mind that Morocco may be more traditional than your home country. Moroccans love visitors and don’t hold them to the same cultural standards as other Moroccans. However, following these tips will help you respect your hosts and not embarrass yourself.
1. Check the Moroccan calendar before you schedule your trip.
When planning your trip, check the calendar of Moroccan national holidays to see if there are any holidays coming up. If your trip coincides with a holiday like Eid Kbir, almost everything will be closed. At the same time, there’s nothing like experiencing holidays with Moroccan friends and their families.
Weekends in Morocco might also look different than what you’re used to. Muslims worship on Fridays, so some stores and restaurants are closed on Friday mornings. Saturday is a school day for most schools, but not always a work day. Almost everyone has the day off on Sunday.
2. Be conscientious about drinking & smoking.
It’s possible to drink and smoke in Morocco, but there’s a cultural stigma associated with these activities. Be careful about where and with whom you partake.
Even though smoking is regarded as a vice, many Moroccan men smoke. It’s less common for women to smoke in Morocco and it gives a bad impression.
According to Islam, alcohol is haram, or “forbidden”, but you can buy alcohol in the big cities except during Ramadan. Many cities like Tangier have clubs and bars but the party scene can be seedy. We don’t recommend that you party alone.
3. Dress a bit more conservatively.
As mentioned above, Moroccans don’t expect foreigners to keep the same cultural standards they do. However, dressing modestly shows you understand and respect Moroccan cultural values. Dress differs from place to place but here are a few general tips:
- Women don’t have to cover their heads but may want to wear their hair up.
- We recommend for women that you cover most of your arms and wear things that hide your hips.
- Wearing shorts (for men as well as for women) is uncommon and will draw attention.
4. Be more thoughtful in your interactions with the other gender.
In general, Moroccans do not casually associate with people of the opposite gender. Men and women rarely touch in public and tend to greet each other with a handshake or without making physical contact. Technically it’s illegal for couples to kiss in public in Morocco although the law is not strictly enforced, especially for tourists.
Because of this, western cultural norms — making direct eye contact with someone of the opposite gender, smiling, and casual touching — can communicate something different to Moroccans.
Tips for communicating with Moroccans
Moroccan communication is highly context-based. What someone means depends less on what they say than on the motivation behind the words. With that in mind, here are some tips for understanding and communicating with Moroccans:
5. Being polite is more important than being “honest.”
Unlike cultures that emphasize truthfulness, Morocco’s culture values honoring the group and avoiding shame. To contradict someone is to disrespect them. You may notice that Moroccans avoid directly saying no; they may change the subject, or say inshallah.
6. Ignoring someone is a perfectly acceptable response.
In Morocco, it’s okay to ignore someone or let the conversation drop rather than declining their request. When friends don’t respond to your text asking to go out on Sunday, it may be a polite way of saying they’re busy.
When people you don’t know try to start up a conversation with you, we recommend you ignore them. If you need help, ask a shop owner, rather than someone who approaches you.
7. Be okay with ambiguity
Moroccans also view time flexibly and tend to make plans last minute. Life is less scheduled, which to a western can be both frustrating and freeing.
The longer I live in Morocco, the more comfortable I become with not understanding everything that’s going on. Keeping an open mind can be difficult, but it allows you to enjoy the unexpected rather than getting frustrated.
8. Be generous.
Generosity is one of the most important Moroccan cultural values. This looks like lavish hospitality and always putting more food on the table than people can eat. Thriftiness indicates hard-heartedness so don’t bargain too hard when you’re souvenir shopping.
If you want to give money to Moroccans, we suggest you do it through an association or a trusted friend rather than giving to someone on the street.
9. Accept hospitality.
If you have the chance to spend time with a Moroccan family in their home, definitely take advantage of the opportunity. As a guest, you honor someone by visiting them and you give them the opportunity to be generous. Keep in mind that Moroccans typically share the same dish and cup. If this is the setup at the home you’re visiting, it’s a good idea to only eat with your right hand.
10. Ask a friend for help!
Visiting a foreign country can feel like trying to play a game when no one’s taught you the rules. Find ways to connect with locals during your stay and invest in cultural experiences with Moroccans. Navigating cultural differences is a lot more fun when you have a friend to share their own tips and advice.