By Erin Geneva
By Erin Geneva
Morocco World News
Rabat, July 2, 2013
Coming from Canada to Morocco, the first thing I noticed about Morocco is how close people get when they are speaking to you. I also noticed the frequency of kissing, hand holding and friends walking with their arms over each other’s shoulders. Especially among men, this is totally different than the way people interact at home. Besides just the notion of physical proximity, I can notice a very big difference in how easily people interact here compared to how they do at home. I think that a part of this is cultural, and part of this is because of how the media at home portrays the world.
There is a very strong cultural value in Canada that is based on the idea of each person minding their own business, and not getting too involved in other people’s lives, especially in urban areas. This means not making eye contact with people sitting across from you on the bus, it means not raising your voice, and it means having as little contact as possible with sales clerks, bus drivers, baristas or other people whose services you may employ during the day.
Since I’ve come here, I have seen people kissing their barbers after a haircut, I have seen people get into a stranger’s car to help guide them with directions, and I have been to a hamaam where a large group of people are practically naked in front of each other, and then washed by an attendant.
I was particularly moved, while riding a train from Tanger to Rabat a few days ago. A young couple with a newborn baby were sitting across the aisle from me, and directly in front of me was a family with a child of maybe three of four years. As the baby fussed throughout the trip, he was passed between his parents who tried to calm him. A few times, the young child came over to the baby, stroked his head and give him a few kisses on the cheek. Another girl, perhaps about eighteen years old, was sitting alone nearby. I saw her take a package of candy from her purse and give it to the little boy. He then proceeded to kiss her on both cheeks.
The parents of the baby, as well as the (presumably) mother of the young boy seemed completely unfazed by these interactions. This is what was particularly interesting to me.
“Stranger danger” is something that Canadian parents work very hard to instill in their children. This I believe, is largely a result of the media’s exaggeration of the phenomenon of crime in Canada. Crime, and child abduction is undoubtedly something that happens in Canada, but it is an extremely rare occurrence, and I think it is sad that people are in my view much more afraid of this than they need to be.
“Never accept Candy from a stranger,” is something that has been repeated to most Canadian children countless times. So I was quite shocked not only that this girl offered up some candy with the expectation that the child would even accept it, but also that the mother of this boy did not opportune that moment as a “stranger danger” lesson.
Besides the fear factor present in Canadian society, is the ever-present value that implores you not to interfere in other people’s business. Therefore, the interactions I observed on this train were significant to me. They would be highly unusual at home.
One thing that I have noticed about Morocco since arriving two months ago, is that it seems to be a society that is much more collectivist and family oriented than my own. I have seen people bring their children to work, and I have also seen a very noticeable difference in the treatment of elders. Sharing the back seat of a taxi with four other people is also certainly an experience that illustrates a collective importance placed on sharing.
I am sure that as a foreigner, used to standing arm’s length from other people, measuring the volume of my voice and accustomed to minding my own business, I may seem a bit standoffish to many Moroccans. To this, I would like to say to the people I have met – Thank-you for welcoming me here with your distinct Moroccan traditions. Thanks for not minding your own business.
Erin MacDonald, is a Canadian MA candidate. She grew up in Halifax Nova Scotia where she earned an Honours degree in Religious Studies from St. Mary’s University. She is now earning an MA in Dispute Resolution from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. She is currently fulfilling the internship requirement of her MA degree, working at La Voix de la Femme Amazighe in Rabat Morocco.
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