Ksar el Kebir, Morocco - As a deeply integrated part of each of us, we cherish our social and cultural norms. However, being exposed to and learning about the norms of other societies may cause us to wrinkle up our noses, open our eyes wide in disbelief and say, “ew!” sometimes all at once.
Ksar el Kebir, Morocco – As a deeply integrated part of each of us, we cherish our social and cultural norms. However, being exposed to and learning about the norms of other societies may cause us to wrinkle up our noses, open our eyes wide in disbelief and say, “ew!” sometimes all at once.
As a husband and wife team living in Morocco for the past two years, we are often reminded that Morocco is America’s oldest friend, being the first country to recognize America’s independence. But despite the history and friendship of our two countries and the fact that we share the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, many societal norms make us worlds apart. As with most cross-cultural differences, awareness is often the basis and foundation for understanding each other better. To that end, today, we will explore the some interesting differences these countries have when it comes to the rituals about coffees and teas.
A striking contrast between Morocco and the U.S. is the name of the place where coffee and tea are served. In the U.S., the sign says “Coffee Shop” and in Morocco, “Cafe.” Based on personal observation, the number of cafes serving coffee and tea in Morocco is greater than all of the restaurants, snack shops, and other stores combined. Literally on almost every street corner and everywhere in between, they come in a plethora of styles and sizes. In the States, these shops are much harder to find, despite the U.S. being home to over 300 million people, many of whom consume coffee and tea daily.
One constant among Moroccan cafes is that both inside and outside, football (otherwise known as soccer in America) is on T.V. However, finding a T.V. in a U.S. coffee shop would be highly unlikely and it would be even more unlikely to see a soccer match on one. More often than not, you will find people reading magazines and newspapers, toiling away on PCs and using electronic devices of every make and model.
While the T.V. is a unifying characteristic for most cafes in Morocco, in the U.S., WiFi seems to hold that distinction. In fact, in even the smallest coffee shop, it is taken for granted that there will be high speed internet access, included in the cost of a cup of coffee or tea. And although many Moroccan cafes do have internet access, the difference is that the cliental in Morocco don’t expect it or take it for granted.
Another difference between Moroccan cafes and U.S. coffee shops are the types of service and the gender of the servers. In the vast majority of cafes, a patron will sit at the table and be served, most often, by a male server. In a U.S. coffee shop, one will generally order and pick up from a counter, rather than be served at a table. However, where service is at a table, the server is just as likely as or maybe more likely to be female than male.
Moroccan cafes usually serve coffee and tea in a glass, the same type of glass for both. Sitting and enjoying the beverage can easily last an hour or more. In the U.S., these drinks are most often served up in cups made from ceramic with handles on the side or out of Styrofoam. Disposable cups, preferably recyclable, make it easier to take the beverage “to go” or “on the run” which people tend to do more often than sitting down at the shop.
Moroccans serve coffee and tea steaming hot, accompanied by copious amounts of sugar. The most traditional and popular drink in Morocco is heavily sweetened green tea, flavored with large sprigs of fresh mint; other popular herbs used in tea are lemon verbena and wormwood. Unsweetened tea is such a ghastly thought to Moroccans, that if you order it without sugar, the server will assume you were mistaken and bring it “lightly” sweetened with only two sugar spoonsful. Coffee can be ordered black, half coffee and half hot milk (nus-nus), or with chocolate. In Morocco, you can also simply order milk. But while an American might find milk a perfectly normal tabletop condiment for coffee or tea, in Moroccan cafes it is an independent beverage, served piping hot with large amounts of sugar or a cloyingly, sweet almond syrup. Upon special request, you can a piece of lemon or some mint syrup as a condiment for coffee.
A wonderful café item, that is famously Moroccan, is the almost always available freshly squeezed orange juice. Morocco may be known for agricultural wonders such as Argon oil, but the color and taste of the orange juice is truly spectacular! (This is a personal assessment coming from Floridians!) The juice is often served in the same type of glass as the coffee or tea and also comes with a plentiful side of sugar, just in case nature didn’t make it sweet enough.
In the U.S., iced coffee and tea are both very popular, as are the unsweetened versions. There is also a wide variety of creamers from which to choose. You can get soy milk, almond milk or cow’s milk, the latter being served full fat, low-fat or non-fat and all with a choice of cold, hot or foamy (and the Starbucks chain just introduced a new option of coconut milk). The choices of sweeteners in the U.S. are just as varied as the creamer selection and usually consist of one or more of the following choices: white, brown or organic sugar, honey, agave nectar, or sweet flavored syrup (vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel, mocha, etc.). Even more strikingly different than Morocco, is the availability of the multitude of natural and chemical substitutes that are available to sweeten the beverages (i.e. Equal, Splenda, Truvia). In Morocco, things are much simpler: if you want sweet, you get sugar.
As for tea in the U.S., you can get an assortment of flavors (peach, mango, ginger, raspberry, lemon, orange, chai and the list is almost endless) and types, such as black, red, green, white, English, African, Chinese, and more. With all of these choices available, including health conscious ones, it seems a bit odd that fresh squeezed juice is almost never an option, though lemonade is sometimes on the menu.
There is no doubt the coffee and tea rituals of these two countries are very different, but it begs the question “Why?” Several of the major factors for these differences are, when, why and with whom people drink coffee and tea.
In Morocco, cafes are a significant venue for entertainment, relaxation and a place to watch sports. Very often, these cafes are exclusively for males. However, in the larger and more cosmopolitan cites, both men and women are welcome. Moroccans often gather at cafes to socialize, watch people go by, chill out and cheer for their favorite soccer teams, which is often Barcelona or Madrid (both located in Spain). Cafes are particularly busy in the evening when football matches are televised live.
In the U.S., coffee shops are busiest in the mornings, when many people use caffeine as a wake-up boost. In general, both genders are present in equal numbers. In the U.S., socializing is more likely to take place in restaurants, bars or venues that cater to afternoon (post-workday) and evening gatherings. Also, it seems that other than a home or live event, the most popular venue to watch sports is a bar. And, although some people might drink tea and coffee in a bar, drinking beer or other alcoholic beverages is the norm. Dissimilarly in Morocco, neither bars nor alcohol are prominent, in fact it is illegal for a Moroccan Muslim to drink alcohol at all. We won’t even begin to bring the ever popular U.S. sports bar, Hooter’s into this comparison!
When it comes to choices for tea, the long, strong Moroccan tradition for mint tea is hard to overcome. There are special pots for making it, glasses in which it is served, a time-honored way to pour it and recipes and preparation methods that have been passed down for generations. The sharing of tea is not just a tradition but an art. The mint used is said to provide many natural health benefits; the heat of the tea is espoused to cure many ailments. When asked if he or she would consider trying an alternative of preparation or type of tea, a Moroccan might say, “If it works and people like it, why change it.”
To the contrary, the U.S. is a melting pot of cultures, as well as a historically new country. Most of its citizens are not attached to any traditional tea or coffee service or type. The U.S.’s mentality about coffee and tea is more along the lines of, “if something new might be good or is a popular selling drink, why not try it?”
In fact, U.S. consumption of coffee and tea tends to change with the seasons, sometimes quite literally. For example, during fall many coffee shops sell pumpkin and spice flavored coffee and tea. During summer, lighter, fruitier flavors are available. These seasonal offerings are designed to entice people to try a new product and test the buyers’ market for potential future sales.
When it comes to putting ice into coffee or tea, known in the U.S. as “icing,” Moroccans simply don’t. Ice is an American tradition that most countries of the world don’t share or even think is necessary, especially when it comes to coffee and tea. Part of this difference is due to the fact that ice is difficult to find in Morocco and the use of freezers is much less widespread. In the U.S., people are simply used to getting ice and it is widely available and convenient.
Time is another huge difference in the two cultures and its effect on the appropriate time for which to consume coffee or tea is no exception. In America, it is often said and heard that, “time is money.” It seems that everyone has a watch or clock and is checking it constantly and often anxiously. Time is in such demand that coffee and tea, as well as hamburgers, French fries, ice cream and hundreds of other items are purchased at drive-through windows then consumed in a car on the way to somewhere, wherever that may be. Consistent with America’s concept of time, a friend might ask another “want to grab a quick cup of coffee?” This phrase reflects the ever present fast-food mentality in the U.S.
In Moroccan culture, time is important, but perhaps not quite as important as chatting with that friend you haven’t seen since this morning, the match that is now being played (or replayed for that matter) or visiting a loved one. In fact, it is really just less of an issue, period. Lateness is accepted and understood, and the reasons irrelevant. Some contributing factors tend to be: public transportation which is often unreliable; caring for family and praying are important and time-consuming daily activities; and people take time to stop and talk to each other in person. Whatever the reasons, it is an ingrained part of the culture. So not surprisingly, taking the time needed to savor and enjoy the coffee or tea experience is not only acceptable, but expected.
Could the basic foundation to understanding cultural diversity between Americans and Moroccans be discovered through our shared, albeit different, love of coffee and tea? Perhaps. Why not sit down at a local café, have a coffee and chat about it awhile?
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission