Morocco: Intro to cultural differences

Marrakech, Morocco

I figured I was probably one of the luckiest solo travelers on earth.  As I got off the plane, I knew that, Inshe'Allah*, I had a Moroccan travel buddy and Couchsurfer awaiting my arrival.  Not only was he willing to come all the way from his home in the Middle Atlas mountains to meet me, but he was an experienced host and traveler who was well aware of the cultural differences between Moroccans and Americans. 

Thank goodness — Rachid was there to greet me!  I got about half a greeting (two air kisses on the cheek, instead of four), probably because he was a bit shy about this first meeting, and then we were off.  I knew I would be saved from much awkwardness by his willingness to be a buffer between me and the cultures with which I'd come to acquaint myself.  I didn't expect the first lesson to be at hostel check-in, however.

*"God willing," spelled Moroccan style; another common spelling is "Insha'Allah."


My Lonely Planet guide, looking lonely.


After taking a bus into town and catching a whiff of a street-facing corner of Djemma el-Fna that was apparently frequented by horses who drink a lot of water (ahem), taking in the neon lights and pop music on one of the main pedestrian walkways, then turning down a narrow, unmarked alley, we arrived at Hotel Hilal.

"Nice!" I thought.  "All the mattresses were killed and dried in a humane way!" 

(Note: although this was not yet Lesson No. 1, I had already made a mental misstep.  Halal is to Arabic what kosher is to Hebrew.  Hilal, in this case, was either an Arabic name or a reference to the crescent moon.  Silly moi!)

I spied some of the folks I'd sat with on the Ah, mother Africa how I missed you!plane also checking the place out, so I knew Rachid had not brought me here to kill and eat me, whew!  He expressed his disappointment with the fact that the usual check-in guy was not at the desk.  Still, after a brief exchange, Unfamiliar Check-in Guy handed him a set of keys for me and we headed upstairs.  Rachid did not like the room, as it was tiny and had no windows, but I was ok with it.  I was just glad it wasn't a dorm-style hostel room, as I relish my privacy.  We spent a few minutes checking the door lock and locating the toilet, then Rachid headed back downstairs to secure a room for himself.  All in all, we'd been upstairs together for about 5 minutes.

I unpacked a few things, finally remembered how to use a squat toilet (called "Turkish toilets" in Morocco), freshened up a bit, then headed downstairs to see if I could locate Rachid.  He was still talking to Unfamiliar Check-in Guy in Arabic and did not seem pleased.  The guy would not give Rachid a room because he'd arrived with me.

Apparently, there is no such thing as friendship between men and women in Morocco.  You either ignore each other, are related to one another, or you're boinking.  In the mind of Unfamiliar Check-in guy, the five minutes we had spent upstairs could only mean one thing: sexy time.

Five minutes, dude?  Really?  Pfft, give me more credit than that!  I may be from a flesh-exposing, materialistic nation with a penchant for inflicting fast food chains on every country we contact, but I do have my standards!  (Not to mention my husband.)

After a look of disbelief from me, which may or may not have helped his cause, and at Rachid's request, I went back upstairs to let him handle it.  He eventually did get a room there, but had to pay a higher rate than I did.  It was due, in part, to the fact that the room was dorm style with 3 beds.  Rachid was the only guest in the room because it's illegal for Moroccans to mix with foreigners.  But that's a lesson in cultural differences for another time.


In the meantime, enjoy this nice picture of the first mint tea I had in Morocco, taken while sitting on a terrace overlooking Djemma el-Fna.


Mmminty mint tea!


What are some of the surprising cultural differences you've encountered?


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  1. Abdellah says:

    Indeed , that was only a matter of luck , hopefully next time u wont ve to meet such ppl specially at the hotel an if u have to go thru any case like this one u could compliane to the police station an trust me he ll be to pay too much for that
    once again , Morocco welcomes everyone, we are after all , brothers an sisters an earth is our only home

  2. Abdellah says:

    As a matter of fact, i am moroccan and i found this very shocking and surprizing, it is now more than anytime before very common to mix between two sexes without facing any troubls even in public, we recieve many tourists each year and i can tell they do really enjoy thier freedom and security withour being disturbed or bothered by anyone, still u should be carefull about the areas u visit in morcco , the north is not the east or the west, the culture differs from one place to another, and u should take it for granteed that there are still some areas dwelled by people who are very conservative and would object and refuse any attempt of rebbling against their standars in thier areas including wearing short shorts an so on, its all about expectations and reading about others culture before u pay them a visit
    Once again feel free to visit Morocco any time u want to
    this is ur land too

    1. Ah, well, Abdellah, no matter where you go, you’ll find people who are conservative and people who are liberal. Apparently the other fellow who works the desk there is not as hung up on things. We just got (un)lucky that day.

      And thank you for the invitation. I am planning to return to Morocco for a visit soon, possibly as soon as this coming January!

  3. van025 says:

    I know that Each country has their own culture but i am still surprised when you said that :Apparently, there is no such thing as friendship between men and women in Morocco.In the mind of Unfamiliar Check-in guy, the five minutes we had spent upstairs could only mean one thing: sexy time. It's so inconvenient if I'm lost and a guy show me the way and I invite him to my room to drink a cup of tea. Oh oh

    1. I think it is generally safer and more appropriate to ask someone out for a beverage than into your room when traveling, but each culture has their habits. :)

  4. Sailor says:

    I think when my wife moved to India she had almost similar cultural shocks .

    1. I imagine she did. I hear that India is a land of amazing contradictions, filled with beauty and wonder sitting right next to mindblowing poverty and shocking living conditions. The people are said to be, all in all, fabulous, however. I have not been, but have two Couchsurfing friends from India and they are some of the smartest, warmest, best guests that we’ve hosted!

  5. this looks fine to me!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to look at this personally, Andy.

      I’m typing this from Opera and it finally showed me the fields to fill in. Still can’t see the link to your latest post, though. Also, despite having the little heart enabled, it’s not showing for me.

  6. Very insightful! I would find it so difficult to exist in a world where I could only interact with members of the same sex unless we were related. Bizarre!

    1. Fortunately (imo), it seems to be changing. Rachid is one example of a younger generation that is no quite so caught up on tradition. On the other hand, it does have its uses, which I may go into in a later post… ;)

  7. I”m not sure if the mixing thing has to do with Moroccans mixing with foreigners which to the best of my knowledge and experience is permissible. I do know there is some archaic law about groups of people meeting together without approval from authorities.. so weird imo!

    1. According to Rachid, it's prevalent in some areas more than others. In Fes, for ex. with all the officials and politicians and such, he's actually been stopped by the police while with a foreigner. He was able to wriggle out of a fine by telling them he was on his way to the police station to register the foreign visitor.

      It seems odd, in light of how naturally friendly and hospitable so many Moroccans are, but it is apparently rather well known by those in the Couchsurfing community. Licensed guides and other tourism professionals are fine, but random friendly people risk jail time for just being human.

      1. ahh yes in that instance then I can see – they’re pretty serious about “faux” guides. Sadly too many like to take advantage :( Although I have heard it’s much better in Morocco than in Egypt (the police)

  8. Bemused Boomer says:

    Wow. No such thing as friendship between men and women–and no such thing as belief in innocence. A great loss.

    You might be surprised to know that attitudes were not so different in Western Europe 43 years ago when I was a stewardess. Vigilant desk clerks kept a very close eye on women who checked into hotels alone. Woe unto one who tried to take a male friend upstairs. Not only was it assumed “sexy time” was taking place, but they were sure it was sexy time for which the males were paying.

    I guess Morocco is one step ahead of that–at least they let Rachid go upstairs to help you check out the room. Give them another 43 years and who knows what might become acceptable?

    1. I think it’s changing more rapidly than that. Rachid is not the only one with an eye-rolling attitude about this kind of thinking. Heh, he’s already warped his family into accepting Couchsurfers from all over the world into their home. Anarchy is night! :P

  9. thank you Katrina a lot for sharing that:). i still remember the silly guy in the hotel, everything between a man and a woman must start with sex…i still prefer the guy i find there always:). i am sure there are better Hotels in Kesh but the first good one i had been to was Hilal:).

    thank you Cathy:). Rachid was not a guide but he was a travel mate who was travelling with an old friend;).

    ….Marrakesh, there is no Cash….:).

    greetings from the land of peace & slow lifestyle!
    peace & hugs

    1. Ah, Rachid! The “guide” vs. “false guide” discussion is yet another cultural lesson to be discussed. I’m pretty sure Cathy only meant guide in the sense that anyone who knows something can guide (or lead or show) someone who knows nothing. It was not a statement about employment. Never fear, my dear friend! All will become clear in subsequent posts. :) *hugs*

  10. Interesting intro to Morocco. I’d say you were quite right to have a guide like Rachid along. Having a mint tea overlooking the square and smelling all those wonderful aromas sounds really good to me.

    1. By “wonderful aromas” I presume you don’t mean the place where the well-watered horses visit. ;)

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