From spending a lot of time with our extended Moroccan family I thought it about time I shared some insights in to social etiquette and general ‘to-dos’. You’ll probably find these are quite obvious but will set the scene for your first meeting with your local team or your first time dining at a Moroccan family home or with a group of Moroccans.
Above all, bear in mind you’re travelling in North Africa. Sometimes your overseas frame of reference won’t best serve you; far better to keep your sense of adventure and open mind than try to continually compare to ‘back home’. Morocco is an open, welcoming country. We are privileged to be able to travel as we do here. When we talk about ‘hospitality’, it is certainly not without substance. However, be mindful when it comes to taking photos and sharing those on social media. Be respectful of others’ property and privacy, especially of women’s, and always ask permission before taking photos. Generally, your driver/guide won’t mind being photographed (see below). Lastly, pause for thought – most Moroccans you meet will never have travelled outside of Morocco.
Greeting and Meeting
No-one is expecting you to speak Moroccan dialect (Darija). However, if you can greet a stranger with ‘salam alaikum’ (or respond to the greeting with ‘wa-alaikum salam’) as you’re giving a firm handshake with your right hand then you’re off to a good start. If your hands happen to be dirty/wet use the back of your right hand to touch theirs. If in doubt, use French greetings.
(Even greeting a shop assistant/waiter/taxi driver with a ‘Bonjour Monsieur/Madame’ will go a long way.)
Generally speaking, hugging a stranger upon greeting them is not done and you should only embrace on the cheek someone of the same gender. Observe how others are greeting each other. Greetings are far more of a big deal than goodbyes. Don’t be surprised to find that greetings and enquiries as to your health (and that of your loved ones) take longer than a cursory Hello, how are you! The handshake/touching of hands is very important.
You’ll also soon notice that if you are passing someone on the road/track who knows your driver/guide (or vice versa), it is of course expected, where possible/safe to do so, that both parties will stop to greet each other, and including you. Your needs as the guest are not being neglected, it is simply important to acknowledge a relative/acquaintance/friend in passing. With goodbyes, the emphasis is on (to paraphrase) God speed and taking care on your way. A handshake is not necessary but no problem if you do so. Say goodbye with ‘bislama’.
We do have a short Darija vocabulary list in our Morocco section on the website.
Before entering the salon at a home, you should remove your shoes and leave them with everyone else’s. It is customary to wash your hands before the meal (and thereafter). One of the younger family members will bring a kettle of warm water, basin and towel in turn to each guest. Cup your hands above the basin and the water will be poured over your hands, while you wash them. Towel-dry. Pass the towel along to your neighbour.
If no kettle is brought round, you should go to the nearest wash-basin to wash your hands before eating. Typically, you will be dining at a low table whilst sitting on the floor (or it’s fine to use a cushion to sit on, one will normally be passed to you) and eating from a communal dish. Try to respect your neighbours’ personal space (i.e. keep your legs/feet tucked in).
If you are eating tagine, you’ll be using bread to scoop out the contents of the dish. You’ll be passed several pieces of bread. Eat with your right hand. You may be offered cutlery, or ask for it if you need to use it. If you’re eating couscous, most people will use a spoon at home, you won’t be expected to use your hand. Only eat the section of the dish contents immediately in front of you, leaving the meat until the end. Don’t take the contents of the dish on the other side of the table and don’t push food around the dish into your neighbours’ section. If in doubt, observe those around you.
A cup of tap water is shared around the table to drink from. You should stick to bottled mineral water or soda. You’ll probably be told to ‘eat eat’, even when you’ve already eaten more than your fill! Your Moroccan hosts will like to see you enjoying your meal as much as they are. In addition, your hosts will probably be of the opinion that you don’t eat enough back home, or it will be inferior to Moroccan food, and so now is the time to really enjoy your meal.
Don’t expect a dessert as such, fresh fruit is served after the main dish. Move back slightly from the table to show your hosts you’ve finished and be sure to make lots of appreciative gestures.