Moroccans are very welcoming and open to other cultures, ideas, and ways of living, but the cultural etiquette in Morocco is unique.
As much as it is exciting, it can be intimidating to travel to unfamiliar countries, but these tips for cultural etiquette in Morocco can help any visitor enjoy its diverse offerings without confusion.
Morocco is a magical travel destination for many people. The colorful and diverse country, with its snow-capped mountains, stunning beaches, and vibrant golden desert can attract anyone interested in experiencing an extraordinary adventure.
Just like its landscapes, Morocco’s culture is very diverse. Foreign influences throughout the years mean Morocco is home to people of different ethnicities, and today’s culture reflects this.
Visitors know Morocco not only for its beauty and diversity, but also as the top destination for safe travel in the region. Its people are generous, welcoming, and hospitable. They will not hesitate to try and help when you ask, and will gladly talk to you about their culture and history.
However, to gain the respect of Moroccans, you need to stay mindful of appropriate behavior in different environments. It is vital to have a solid understanding of Morocco’s cultural etiquette to avoid any misunderstandings or embarrassments on your journey.
These are some important tips on cultural etiquette that will help you avoid any confusion and feel confident during your travel in Morocco.
Greetings and public displays of affection
Greetings in Morocco tend to be formal, yet very warm and friendly. Usually people from the same sex will either shake hands or greet each other with two kisses on both cheeks, depending on their closeness.
When Moroccans greet with “cheek kisses,” they do not really kiss your cheeks. Rather, they touch your cheek with theirs and kiss the air.
Traditionally, when a man greets a woman, he waits for her to extend her hand first for a handshake. If she doesn’t extend it, the man should bow his head in greeting. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Moroccans place their left hand on their heart after nodding and saying “salaam alykum.” Alternatively, they may touch elbows.
Moroccans will often not only ask how you’re doing, but also about your family and children’s well being. Some Moroccans tend to greet everyone, even strangers, especially in large gatherings. They will say “salaam alykum” to everyone that is present. If you are with a Moroccan and they meet someone they know, they will stop for greetings and their friend will likely greet you as well.
Public displays of affection are not too common in Morocco. People from the same gender can hug and hold hands platonically. However, kissing in public is forbidden and homosexuality is strictly illegal in the country.
Friday: A holy day and a day for couscous
If you do not understand the importance of Fridays in Morocco, you might feel uncomfortable when you see the streets almost empty and the souks almost all closed.
As Morocco is a Muslim country, Friday is considered a holy day. Shops and restaurants might open in the morning but will close at 12 p.m. for long prayers at the mosque. Some will reopen at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., depending on the individuals.
Friday is also couscous day. Moroccan families gather every week around the table to eat couscous after prayers. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find couscous on the menu every day of the week.
In addition to observing Friday as a holy day, Morocco also observes Muslim holidays. During eid holidays, all shops, restaurants, and institutions tend to close, especially during Eid Al Adha. It is typically not the best day to travel. To determine the dates of these holidays, you can do a quick internet search and find all the information you need. This year Eid Al Adha in Morocco will fall on July 31. However, the date varies year to year, based on the lunar calendar.
Cultural etiquette for visiting a home in Morocco
Moroccans are very hospitable, and you might even meet people who invite you over for a meal at their home after only one conversation.
When entering a Moroccan home it is important to remove your shoes at the door and leave them by the shoe area. Your host will then offer you indoor slippers.
During a home visit, you will have to converse with the hosts before they offer you tea or coffee with Moroccan sweets and pastries. As a first-time guest, traditionally it is nice to bring gifts such as cones of sugar or sweets and pastries.
When the host serves the meal, it is important to wash your hands first. Sometimes they will bring a washing basin to the table before serving the meal. This custom will also allow you to dry your hand with a towel.
You can start eating when the host blesses the food and says “bismillah” (in the name of God).
Importantly, remember to use your right hand for everything. Moroccans usually use their right hand when eating in a communal dish by dipping small pieces of bread into their meal. Personal space is important here because everyone eats from their specific side of the dish. If the host serves couscous, they will offer spoons as well.
Modesty is important in Morocco since it is a Muslim country, especially in rural villages and small cities. Wearing appropriate clothes while traveling to Morocco can gain you respect and help you travel comfortably.
Men and women alike wear loose-fitting clothes that cover most of their bodies. Women often wear scarfs and the traditional djellaba. However, this is not the case for everyone, especially young people.
In large cities the dress code is less strict. You can find many people wearing what they want as long as it’s not too revealing or inappropriate. In villages and small cities, on the other hand, it is better to dress modestly to avoid offending people and respect Moroccan culture.
Wearing swimwear at beaches and swimming pools is completely acceptable. However, it is absolutely inappropriate to walk around in cities wearing bathing suits and bikinis, even if you are near the beach.
Read also: 10 Good Reasons to Visit Morocco
Cultural etiquette for bargaining in Morocco’s markets
When visiting Moroccan souks you are bound to buy as many souvenirs as you can, from traditional clothes and enchanting lanterns to spices and Moroccan tea.
Prices are mostly reasonable in souks. If you feel the need to pay full price and you can, that is great and will support local business.
However, if you really want to bargain but hesitate, don’t feel shy—haggling is part of Moroccan culture.
Moroccans haggle when buying anything from slippers to carpets. If you have time on your hands and really want to bargain on an item, set a reasonable price that you are willing to pay. Then tell the merchant you want to pay half of that price and start haggling.
If the owner does not offer you a good deal you can walk away. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything. Sometimes the shop owners will even call you back to offer you a better deal as you walk away.
Ask before taking photos
Morocco is a great destination for photographers, with diverse landscapes and colorful environments. Nonetheless, it is inappropriate to indiscriminately take photos wherever you want.
Most Moroccans don’t like to be photographed, so it is important to respectfully ask for permission before taking their photos. Also note that the law forbids taking photos of police or any related authorities and facilities.
Sometimes, after asking permission, locals will happily welcome your request. They might even model for you and give you great tips for taking photos in the area.
When visiting Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech, asking in advance is particularly important. People working there such as dancers, entertainers, snake charmers, and henna tattoo artists will ask you to pay before taking a photo. Usually it’s around MAD 10 to MAD 20 ($1 to $2). Asking before taking a photo will help you avoid an awkward situation where an entertainer charges a high price after the fact.
Visiting a country with a different culture and different traditions, such as Morocco, can be both thrilling and a little scary at first.
Brushing up on your knowledge about the country and taking note of these cultural etiquette tips will definitely ease your confusion and encourage you to explore the culture more when visiting Morocco.
Read also: 10 Most Delicious Moroccan Foods