little English is spoken outside some of the posher
places catering to North Americans and other English
speaking tourists. Rudimentary French and Arabic
are languages of commerce and intellectual matters
(in the banks, stores, cafes). Arabic is the state
language, taught in the schools, but in the rural
areas, three major Berbers dialects, depending
on geographic locale, is the lingua of folk. However,
a smile, a nod, and a few Arabic words go a long
way in getting what you need. Here are a few words
to help you along your way.
"Salam A'la Kom"
"la" and Yes:
"vaysay" or good, old-fashioned, "W.C."
pestering men (in the guise of offering to help
any ladies in distress), don't look like an obvious
tourist. Dress conservatively, covering arms and
below the knees. To blend right in, and therefore
go about freely, I walk tall and dress
like the local women -- fine cotton kaftan and
head-wrap, kohl-eyed, wearing heaps of costume-jewelry.
many of the roads tend to be cobbled stones, and
often muddy after the rain. Wear comfortable,
closed shoes and not sandals. In open shoes, your
feet can get wet, very dirty, or worse, stepped
on by animals.
all countries, do your best to respect the
culture and customs. Moroccans are very proud,
traditional people who expect women to act
formally in public. Smile a lot with your
mouth and eyes. Speak quietly, but firmly.
Hand-gestures are welcome, but don't touch
anyone or pick up food with the left hand.
Never look into a man's eyes while speaking
or initiate physical
contact with him. Dark glasses and a fake
(if necessary) wedding band are wonderful
means, trust your gut and consider invitations
to visit families, and always bring a small
gift (special delicacy, something for the
house or hostess). Try to verify with someone
at your hotel or B&B whether they know the
person who has invited you and whether this
is a proper invitation you can accept. Always
wash hands, as is the ritual, before sharing
food with your host and hostess.
out local women...
encounters will always enrich your experiences
in Morocco. Women are more free to express
themselves amongst one another, and thus you
can learn at close range about the culture.
I found that there are three main places to
(a segregated-by-gender steam bath): where
women congregate to clean, beautify, exchange
news and information, relax, and get ad hoc
childcare advice. Neighborhood hammams are
inexpensive, ritualized fun, and let you be
part of a community. Ask a staff member where
you're staying to take you the first time,
or arrange another way. Once, in an antique
store in Essouira, I asked the owner about
the hammam she goes to. She not only escorted
me but provided all the bathing accouterments.
especially on certain days of the week (varies
in each locale), women do the food shopping.
Hang out with them and watch how real bargaining
off with the veil, anything goes. Women are
wickedly funny, sensuous, and deeply caring
at home. The first time I accepted an invitation
to visit a Moroccan family, it was from my
waitress at the hotel. I didn't know what
to expect. Inside the kasbah where her family
lived, in a private courtyard, I found her
sisters, mother, and grandmother laughing
uproariously while they danced to Michael
Jackson on a boombox. When I joined in, granny
pinched my bottom and motioned to her rotating
hips. Wow, I thought, so this is what goes
on behind the veil!