Updated: 16 April 2022
BACKGROUND & CULTURE
A BRIEF BACKGROUND
Morocco lies west of the North African continent. It has been known to be subject to significant migration over the centuries. The country began its history as being home to the Berbers in the 2nd Century who were the descendants of the pre-Arab people in North Africa and settled in the areas of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Much of the time of the country’s development, it has been controlled by small tribal groups the Carthage and the Roman Empire for a number of centuries. After an Arab conquest in the 7th Century, Islam became the way of life.
Various political influences reigned over the following centuries and at times, foothold attempts by Europeans were made, finally becoming a subject of Great Power politics in the 19th Century and becoming a French protectorate in 1912. Morocco finally regained independence in 1956.
Today, Morocco is the only monarchy in North Africa.
The tanneries are a must visit – get ready for the strong smells, but it is a fascinating sight to see how leather is prepared the same way it has been done for centuries. Another must see is the Souk Seffarine where metal workers hammer out their designs and you may be able to pick up unique Moroccan souvenir pieces.
While Casablanca has had its notoriety, it is actually Rabat that is the capital of Morocco after it was moved from Fez in 1912 at the beginning of the French Protectorate. Despite its independence in 1956, Rabat remained the capital.
You will find most Moroccans hospitable and courteous. However, it is important to remember that it is a conservative Muslim country and their religious beliefs should be respected. This includes not wearing revealing clothes, avoid kissing and cuddling in public and not eating or smoking outside during Ramadan.
Morocco strives to improve its drive towards modernisation however, it is still a developing country with its economic, social, political, and environmental issues such as high poverty rates, economic instability, and lack of essential human resources that fall behind much of the Western world.
The main cities of Marrakesh and Casablanca, while rapidly modernising and improved standard of living, still retains much of its ancient architecture and traditional customs which are extremely characteristic, particularly its prevalence with creations of mosaics and colourful textiles.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN MOROCCO
The official language of Morocco is Arabic. However, the original ancient language of the native Moroccans is that of the Berbers, which is Amazigh and still spoken by about 40% of the population. French, due to the period of the French Protectorate, is also a prevalent language, particularly amongst the wealthier and educated classes.
WOMEN IN MOROCCO
As with all Muslim countries, the roles between men and women are much more defined than in Western countries. It is thus important to understand the conservative nature of the attitude between the genders. In many areas, it is still traditional that women wear a veil and do not smoke or drink in a bar. While the younger generation are becoming more liberal, the changes in traditions take a long time and are only in discrete areas of the country, known best by the locals. It is adviseable not to assume there is an acceptance of Western attitudes and mannerisms.
Being a foreigner in Morocco will always attract attention and it is best to ensure prior planning is made with respect to hotel bookings, travel routes and itinerary. Some strategies for women may be to avoid eye contact with men, may mention a husband is nearby, or if travelling with male friend, give the impression that he is your husband.
Additionally, all physical contact with Moroccan men should be avoided, even innocent gestures that are normally considered friendly interactions in your home country. On the other side, Moroccan men should also never touch a woman and if you are female, you must be strong and loud to cause attention to the improperly behaving male.
The coldest months in Morocco are between December to January where temperatures range between 9oC during the evenings to a maximum of 24oC during the daytime.
The wet season is between October to April, with the driest months between June to August.
The hottest months are between late June to early September with average highs hitting above 38oC.
ARRIVING & GETTING AROUND
Morocco is an Islamic country and so as a visitor, whether the travel is for touring or relocating as a new resident, it is very important to respect the local laws and traditions of the country. Some behaviours that would normally appear acceptable in your home country, may be improper, considered hostile or even illegal. For example. homosexuality is a criminal offence and women must dress modestly covering shoulders with conservative shorts and skirt lengths.
Of course, before booking your flights, it is advisable to check the latest arrival requirements. The official website is the Department of Foreign Affairs and is best to keep updated, particularly in the current pandemic climate.
Naturally, appropriate visas for entry must be cleared prior to boarding the plane and having travel insurance is also highly adviseable.
Depending on which city (for example, Casablanca), public transport is available and fairly easy to use. However, the best way to see any part of the country is by car. Taxis should be negotiated and agreed on for the price prior to getting into the car as most drivers do not turn on the meter. There are not many taxi apps and there are private car hire companies that may help you feel more at ease getting around the cities if you don’t have your own car.
If you choose the local taxis, there are 2 types of taxis: the petit taxi or a grand taxi.
The petit taxis can sit only a maximum of 3 people and the driver may pick up other passengers along the way that are going in the same direction. Petit taxis are only for local trips and will not travel outside the city area. Grand taxis can seat upto 6 passengers, 4 in the back and 2 in the front with the driver. The taxis are still shared transport and payment is essentially per seat. If there is a spare seat in the taxi, it is best to establish the direction of the taxi as they have fixed routes for their destinations. If the grand taxi is empty, you can ask for a specific address, but the trip will cost significantly more.
GPS is an essential option for driving in Morocco. In the rural areas there are few road signs and roads are difficult to follow at times. Within the main cities, there are frequent one way streets, or changed road conditions, so it is necessary to take a lot of care and attention to driving around Morocco. While the scenery can be beautiful when away from the main roads, preparation and planning is essential to ensure that you don’t get lost and a number of tour companies do offer packages between the main cities.
Within Fez, the medina is only a walking area with no vehicle traffic allowed. Take care to find out which places you may park your car as often there will not be a simple parking ticket on the window if you park in a restricted area, but a full wheel clamp for which you will need to find out the correct avenue to have it released (with a hefty fee!).
Marrakesh is slightly more urbanised and nestled within the Atlas Mountains, within which you can find the original Berber tribes scattered in and around villages on the side of the road or in the peaks.
Rabat is scenic city sitting on the coastline by the North Atlantic Ocean and is also a fairly modernised town with decently signed streets and orderly traffic.
HOME & FOOD
As Morocco is considered a developing country, it is strongly adviseable to engage a property agent when searching for a rental property. While there is an overarching law governing rental leases, regulation and enforcement is not usually relied upon. There is thus a lot of ability to negotiate many of the rental terms and according to Moroccan law, lease agreements can be entirely verbal. This is of course is highly unwise.
All written contracts are in Arabic (you will need to have a translator) and to be recognised as legal, need to be notarised at a local town administrator.
HOUSE HUNTING RESOURCES
A lease can be any length of time up to 99 years and changes in rental rates can be fixed and agreed for up to a 3 year period, with increases generally limited to under 8%. Rent is generally payable monthly, but quarterly is also practice with approximately 10% security deposit.
Obligations between landlords and tenants are generally basic where the landlords are responsible for major repairs, and tenants must upkeep the property and keep it in good order with being responsible for minor repairs. It is a good idea to take good detailed photos of the property as an inventory of the state of the condition of the property before you move it.
The main Western supermarket chain is Carrefour with delivery options available, however many of the sites are often in French. Once you get used to it, markets are a very low-priced alternative to the major supermarket chains. Of course, the style of local markets is rustic and often difficult to carry many items due to the compact location and crowded nature of the stalls, as well as walking impediments such as uneven paving and a maze like floorplan.
There are also smaller local shops and patisseries that offer particular tasty foods or wares.
EATING WITH LOCALS
The traditional way of eating is with hands. The etiquette in eating with your hands is to pick up bread or pass dishes to others with your left hand, and eating for yourself with only your right hand.
When you are with locals, do not take bread or dishes for yourself but wait to be handed the food. Bread is used to mop up the food from the plate and you must use a napkin to clean your fingers rather than licking them.
As with Muslim cultures, washing is considered one of the prime traditions required around prayer or eating. Women mostly do not eat with the family, so do not be alarmed if the women serve the food and leave. There may be allowances in households for female visitors to eat together with the family.
RESTAURANTS and EATING OUT
As would be expected, the variety of foods available vary between street vendors (do be cautious to eat from the street as your stomach would most likely not be accustomed to locally prepared street food), cafes perched in high locations, small family style eateries, to fine dining venues in discerning settings and hotels.
Fine dining is becoming increasingly popular, exploring the spices and traditional methods of cooking, such as the tangine dishes. The range of cuisines range from local Moroccan flavours to many international restaurants, including the opportunity to go to bars, despite that alcohol is generally quite expensive in Morocco and it is a Muslim country.