Responsible tourism on Morocco cultural vacations

There are a lot of new cultural norms to adjust to when you travel to Morocco and just as local people greet their guests with respect, we should return the compliment. Sometimes we aren’t aware that we are transgressing cultural norms, or causing offence, so do please read our tips below.

Dress codes

Cultural sensitivity is very important when it comes to clothing, but Morocco is much more liberal than many Islamic countries. It’s more about modesty and moderation, or not ‘showing off’, and this refers to skin and also ‘stuff’. In Morocco, glam and glitz is considered a bit crass.
Keep it plain and keep it local, while also keeping cool in the heat is the best way to go. The other best way to do that is by shopping locally. Women may want to seek out a Moroccan kaftan, jabador or jilaba in the souks. Although there is no pressure to dress exactly as local people do, you can find some gorgeous garments. Otherwise, pack your maxi dresses, long flowing tops or pashminas that cover your shoulders. Silk or linen baggy trousers are also a great investment for any trip to Morocco. In other words, go with the cultural flow and let the fabrics flow, too.

PDA protocol

Holding hands is fine, and common, but going for the full on snog in public or stroking each other as you sip mint tea outside a cafe will get the local tongues clicking. So, keep the cuddles for the kasbah.
Along with 73 other countries, homosexuality is illegal in Morocco, although arrests are very rare. However, you don’t want to risk a three year prison sentence, which can happen. Even kissing counts as a homosexual act, although, confusingly, Moroccan male friends are openly affectionate with each other in public. Morocco does, however, attract LGBT travelers and has done for years. Read more on this complex dichotomy in our LGBT Morocco guide.

Religion & Ramadan

I loved hearing the call to prayer every morning. I lay there and listened, meditating over the day that lay ahead. It was a lot preferable to the 6am news back home.
One of the daily rhythms of any Moroccan cultural vacation is being woken up by the call to prayer, or adhan, which happens five times a day. This is a sacred act, fundamental to the local culture and if you are staying in a medina in one of the cities, you are going to hear it echoing out from the various mosques.
When it comes to visiting mosques, if you are non-Muslim, unfortunately, you can’t. The one exception is the Hassan II Mosque at the end of the pier in Casablanca. This mosque is stunning and you can visit it every day except Friday, with an entry fee. It is said to be one of the most expensive mosque ever built ($800-$850 million in the 1980s) with a retractable roof, glass floor over the sea and the world's tallest minaret at 210m. It also emits a laser directed towards Mecca.
When planning a vacation to Morocco do check the dates, or indeed the significance of Ramadan – the Islamic month of fasting which culminates in a celebration known Eid al-Fitr. This can be a wonderful time to visit Morocco, as people come out to eat en famille and with friends after sunset, but during the day many businesses can be shut. It is good to respect the fact that people are fasting during Ramadan, especially if you are traveling with a local guide during this time.
I loved hearing the call to prayer every morning. I lay there and listened, meditating over the day that lay ahead. It was a lot preferable to the 6am news back home.

Language in Morocco

Classical Arabic and Berber (or Tamazight) are Morocco's two official languages. The spoken Arabic is Moroccan Arabic (or Derija), which differs from the classic form. French is also widely spoken among older people, with smatterings of Spanish and English among younger people. Although at least 80 percent of the population is Berber, the language has only been taught in schools since 2009. It’s tricky, but do make an effort to speak some of the local language. It really goes a long way.
Thank you is Ake Issrebeh Moulana in Berber and Shukran in Moroccan Arabic
Hello is Manzakine or Salam in Berber and Ahlan in Moroccan Arabic
If you are stuck, try ‘Tkalem Ingles?’ Or ‘Parlez vous anglais’, for ‘Do you speak English?’ in Arabic and French respectively.

Meal times

The most polite way to eat is with your right hand, using your thumb and first two fingers only. To use more fingers shows greed.
There are many more meal breaks in Morocco than in other cultures as, traditionally, they revolve around the five calls to prayer. Breakfast is early morning and dinner is late evening and, in general, eating is all about being together. Sharing bread, tagine or just tea and pastries is all part of the Moroccan day. With a tagine, the traditional way is to eat it out of the main dish using bread to section off your personal portion and then scoop it up.
Couscous is also often eaten by hand or with bread, and always remember to eat with your right hand only, as the left hand is considered unclean. Don’t help yourself to bread but wait until someone gives it to you, and then pass it on to someone else. If you are eating with a family, the hostess may not eat with you but leave the room and eat later. A lovely thing to acknowledge is the blessing of a meal, which is ‘Bismillah’ (the name of Allah), which most people echo. Do try to engage in conversation because being lively and chatty at mealtimes in Morocco is a sign of gratitude to your hosts.

Hate haggling?

I have been to Morocco several times now and each time I think I won’t need more room in my suitcase to bring things home. Each time I am proved wrong.
Haggling is very much at the heart of Moroccan culture, and one of the advantages of a guided cultural tour is that your guide can help with haggling, will know a realistic price and will also know the best artisans. If you embrace it you will have fun shopping, and there are so many wonderful artisan treats to buy in Morocco.
There is less haggling in the souks of Essaouira than in Marrakech but no matter where you go you will have to play the game and there are a few things to know which can help. Be prepared for the vendor to announce a price as high as 30 times what he expects. Don’t then just drop it to something really low, as he will be insulted. Just show all the things that could possibly be wrong with it and, with each one, let him drop the price. Another trick is to say ‘I will pay that, but you need to give me that item as well’ in a two-for-the-price-of-one sort of way. Also, if you don’t speak Arabic or Berber, try a little French, as your starting price is nearly always going to be a little bit lower that way.
One thing that is important to remember is not to be rude when haggling. It’s not a big deal to pay £2 over the odds for a pair of leather slippers which you would probably pay way more for in your local craft market anyway. Keep things in perspective and enjoy this quirky purchase process.

Photography

Some people will charge you to take their photos, such as the decorative water sellers in Marrakech. You can support this, or just keep your lens cap on.
Morocco is a photographer’s nirvana with colourful fabrics, food stalls, fascinating cultural scenes, stunning landscapes and festivals. However, it is very important to be respectful when it comes to taking photographs. Always ask permission, and resist the temptation to click without conversation, considering how you would want to be treated back home. Would you want someone taking a picture of your children without asking, or sticking a camera in your face as you went about your daily tasks? You won’t die if you don’t get that shot.
Read more of our thoughts on Responsible Tourism in Morocco.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Wei Pan] [Man: Christopher L.] [Dress code: Dan Lundberg ] [PDA: Cait ] [Religion & Ramadan: Christopher L.] [Language: Steve Waterworth] [Food: Annie Spratt] [Haggling: bachmont] [Photographs: Ahron de Leeuw]
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