Rabat - Over 10 million tourists visited Morocco in 2013, the Minister of Tourism—then Lahcen Haddad—officially announced to the international media. This came as great news for both the Moroccan treasury and Moroccan politicians. Morocco is land of peace and stability, of rest and enjoyment. For some it is a paradise on earth, for others it is a land of exoticism and orientalism.
Rabat – Over 10 million tourists visited Morocco in 2013, the Minister of Tourism—then Lahcen Haddad—officially announced to the international media. This came as great news for both the Moroccan treasury and Moroccan politicians. Morocco is land of peace and stability, of rest and enjoyment. For some it is a paradise on earth, for others it is a land of exoticism and orientalism.
General Patton, the famous American war hero of the WWII candidly described Morocco as“ a land of marriage between the Bible and Hollywood.” His statement aptly sums up the tourists’ view of Morocco, especially because of all of the films that are made here, particularly in the region of Ouarzazate.
A good American friend of mine told me a while ago—and I believe he was being quite sincere— that one of the great things about Morocco is that it seems that the clock ticks slowly and smoothly here, meaning that “time takes time;” a metaphor that we owe to the late French socialist President François Mitterand in the 1980s.
In Morocco things move slowly, especially in the countryside where people take time to enjoy life. Generally speaking, Moroccans take time to live, maybe a bit too much. Morocco doesn’t subscribe to the urgency and franticness that you find in the West, nor does it conform to the “killing trinity” in France: auto/metro, bureau, dodo, or “car/subway, office,home.”
In Morocco, the common philosophy is stated in the following proverb:
- L3am twil li bgha yerba7
“One has all the necessary time to make it in life”
For many this sounds like a call for sluggishness, or an unwillingness to work and a dependence on others.
In Morocco, the society is in principle patriarchal and the family is extended, though the economic constraints of modern life are replacing the latter with a nuclear family, particularly in more urban areas. The extended family is resisting the erosion of modernization, however, through the Islamic influence that encourages solidarity and mutuality. The sentiment of selflessness and collaboration are undoubtedly inspiring religious teachings and tremendous human qualities. But on the other side of this ideal is the selfish person who does nothing for himself, and often relies on a working member of the family for assistance. Alas, the result is often a family situation in which one person provides for many able family members, who in turn freeload off of the family. Quite rightly, sometimes one wonders whether Morocco is a country of lazy people—people who shamelessly depend on family members rather than work and earn a living.
Nowadays, many retired people from Europe buy property in coastal towns and come to Morocco to enjoy the good weather, the good food and the reputable timelessness of the country and its culture after working a very hard lifestyle in their respective countries.
Life is definitely festive and slow everywhere in this country. In the souks, people take time to buy merchandize, haggle, exchange pleasantries, and maybe even sit have sugary mint tea and a chat. The artisans and business owners are in no hurry to do business; they want to enjoy time with customers and establish durable friendships.
A European friend of mine said jokingly that in European shopping areas you see signs that say “cash and carry”— or,“cash and get the hell out” to make room to the next customer. In Morocco, he says it is quite the opposite: it is “cash and linger.” He goes on to say that, at first, Europeans are annoyed by this habit, but as they come to terms with it they indulge in its practice and find it endearing. It is a sophisticated way of establishing social contact that is beneficial for everyone, and establishing lasting relationships.
For many Moroccan people, cafés are sacred places. They are at the same time cultural, social and economic institutions that play an important role in peoples’ lives. They are as important as, for example, pubs in Britain—except that unlike pubs, cafés are often open from 7 am until midnight in Morocco. Moroccans say jokingly that “between a café and a café, there is another café.”
Cafés are frequented by people all day. They are a place for watching the whole world go byand socializing with friends. It is referred to in Moroccan culture as tbergig—a form of spying openly on the other.
The customers of cafés are of three categories:
- Café dwellers: those who are all day in café either “Waiting for Godot” or whiling away time because either they are unemployed or they hate work and live off a family member;
- Those who use cafés as premises for doing business: striking a deal, looking for juicy business opportunities, or acting as intermediaries, known in Moroccan culture as samsara, and looked down upon for their unorthodox practices and deceitful ways;
- Students: Some cafés allow students to use cafés to do homework or revise their lessons in groups, provided they buy a drink every two hours; and lastly,
- Youth in love: Hugging and kissing in public is considered taboo by both the culture and the religion in Morocco. So, young people in love meet at cafés. Cafés have a sort of mezzanine for them to use, provided they have a drink and pastry. In these rosy environments you encounter students, but also ladies who are seeking to provide sexual favors or escort services to locals or foreigners.
Beyond these daily customers, there are football fans that frequent cafés when there are Champion Leagues, World Cup, or national soccer team matches. For these special occasions, café owners rearrange the tables and chairs in the café and make use of large screen TVs, sometimes even charging double or triple for drinks. Even if soccer diehards have TV screens in their homes, they prefer to watch these matches in cafés because they offer stadium ambiance, allowing them to scream, chant and even curse, if they feel like it.
For many Moroccans, cafés are commercial institutions that provide people with “virtual weapons” to “assassinate time” rather than use it aptly to improve their lives and help the country advance. Some even believe that if cafés are outlawed, people would be much more productive and hardworking, which would be good for individuals and families and, of course, the country.
In Europe, right after the Renaissance, time became a very important cultural and economic concept. Thus, artisans took to making time pieces of all shapes and sizes—from pocket watches to large clocks, many different time pieces have been fitted into fashion accessories and large buildings—like Big Ben—to remind everyone of time’s importance in everyday life.
The rich collected time pieces to decorate their castles and residences, and put one in almost every room. The middle class used them to organize their lives and their work. As such, punctuality became very important in life and every institution—whether cultural, political, economic or otherwise—made use of time, making punctuality required in order to respect time schedules.
In Morocco, time pieces and time schedules were unknown before the arrival of the French in 1912—except for Moroccan Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz, who had a particular affinity for time pieces.
When the French Protectorate (1912-1956) set up a modern administration, they set up time schedules in all parts of Moroccan life. Offices had to open and close at precise times, and civil servants had to discharge their functions at certain times on working days. The same was true for the private sector; banks, shops, train stations, hospitals, etc. all had to subscribe to the same time schedule.
Today, most Moroccans own time pieces—watches, clocks, computers, and smart phones—yet they have very little respect for punctuality. People usually come late for rendezvous, and consider such behaviors very normal. Official functions always start late and are always scheduled on the assumption that officials will arrive late. It seems, indeed, that these people consider such an uncivil behavior as a privilege of their position and consider it, also, as an action that shows their importance and rank within government and society.
In the administration, time is loose and of little importance. Civil servants customarily arrive late and finish work an hour before official closing time. In the meantime, they spend a lot of time taking coffee or lunch breaks, or chatting on their smart phones. In fact, it seems that Moroccan civil servants work probably two solid hours at the most during a daily workload of 8 official hours. When you ask them why they do not honor their work hours, they often say they are underpaid and that is why they “under-work” as it were. Under the pressure of the World Bank, the Moroccan government is considering introducing work contracts to mandate that people do enough work in their various occupations.
Moreover, Moroccans have a habit of arriving late without taking responsibility for their tardiness.
- Msha 3liya toubis/tran/lcar/tram
“The bus/train/Tram left (on me) without me (blaming the means of transportation for the lateness.)”
Unfortunately, this lame excuse is accepted by officials and society, which in turn perpetuates the lack of punctuality within society. It is like the late person makes the boss, the administration, the society and then the public at large accept unquestionably the irresponsibility of lateness: a sort of ridiculous power game.
Moroccans romanticize lateness but the same time make fun of it and denounce it openly. People often make jokes about lateness being synonymous of under development but, alas, do nothing to put an end to it.
A common Moroccan joke is about a European coming to Morocco to do business, who was told about the perpetual lateness in the country. So when he was waiting at the train station for a train scheduled arrive at midday, the train indeed arrived on time and he was baffled. He then assumed that all he was told was mere stereotyping. So, he got on the train, sat next to a Moroccan young man and engaged in a conversation:
- Hello, I was told that trains in Morocco arrive late but this one was right on time!
The youth responded with a chuckle:
- This train was supposed to be here midday yesterday …
Moroccans glorify very often punctuality and time in their discussions and linguistic expressions (proverbs):
- Fiya9 bekri b dhab mashri (Moroccan Arabic)
“The early bird gets the worm”
- Li fatek b lila, fatek b 7ila (Moroccan Arabic)
“He who is punctual is more efficient”
- Al-wa9t min dahab in lam ta9ta3hou 9ata3ek (Standard Arabic)
“Time is money”
But, unfortunately this does not reflect on their behavior and philosophy. However, modern management practices require punctuality and respect of time. Will Moroccans adhere to this attitude and way of life to take off economically speaking or continue with their time-old ridiculous habits of lateness and time wasting that perpetuate their backwardness and under development?
Only time will show.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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