What to know about Moroccan culture and etiquette before you go

With beautiful scenery, vibrant cities, rich culture, delicious cuisine and friendly locals, Morocco is an incredible destination. It’s also home to many unique Moroccan traditions and etiquette rules, so it’s best to brush up on your cultural knowledge before you visit. Not only will you have a much more enriching experience, but the locals will really appreciate you making the effort to respect their customs. From what to wear to how to eat, here is everything to know about Moroccan culture and etiquette before you go. 

Greetings

Greetings in Moroccan culture are more formal, yet very warm and welcoming. Moroccans will say “salaam alykum” (hello) to everyone, even in large gatherings and they’ll ask about your health and the wellbeing of your family and children. People from the same sex will usually shake hands or greet with two “air kisses” on both cheeks, but this is never done between opposite sexes unless they know each other very well.

If a man is greeting a woman, he waits for her to extend her hand for a handshake. If she doesn’t, he should bow his head as a greeting. You should always greet with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean. During the coronavirus pandemic, Moroccans switched up their greetings and now often touch elbows or place their left hand on their heart after nodding and greeting with “salaam alykum”.

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How to dress in Morocco

Morocco is a conservative country and you should always dress modestly when travelling here. Men should wear a t-shirt or collared shirt covering the shoulders and long trousers or shorts that reach the knee. Women should wear long, loose-fitting clothing that covers your upper arms, knees, chest, midriff and back. It’s not necessary for foreign women to cover their hair, but you will need to do so when visiting a mosque, so bring a scarf for extra modesty. Swimwear should only be worn at the beach and you should always cover up before leaving the beach.

If you are visiting a rural area, it’s important to be even more conservative and cover your arms and legs. The cities are a bit more relaxed but the locals appreciate it if you respect the Moroccan culture by dressing modestly. As for shoes, bring some comfy sandals, as you’ll find yourself slipping them off quite a lot when you enter homes and religious sites.

Remember, if you’re visiting during Ramadan, you should dress even more conservatively. Also, you won’t be expected to fast, but it is polite to eat, drink and smoke indoors away from the locals who are fasting during this holy month.

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Public displays of affection

While you may often see people of the same sex hugging and holding hands in Morocco, this is only a sign of friendship. Public displays of affection between opposite sexes such as kissing are not allowed, while homosexuality is illegal in Morocco. 

Gestures

If you need to beckon someone, don’t use your index finger to motion a person over, as this is considered very rude in Moroccan culture. Instead, place your palm downward and sweep the hand toward yourself.

Domestic etiquette in Morocco

Moroccans are famously friendly and you might even meet people who invite you to their homes for a meal. When you travel to Morocco with Trafalgar, you’ll also get the unique opportunity to enjoy meals with local families in their homes. So what should you know about Moroccan culture in the home?

The first thing to do is to remove your shoes before entering. Your host will offer you indoor slippers or you can go barefoot. It is then polite to chat with your host before they offer you tea or coffee and sweets. It’s also a Moroccan tradition to bring a gift for the host like pastries or tea.

Table etiquette in Morocco

Before the meal, you should always wash your hands. Your host might even bring a washing basin to the table before the meal is served. But don’t dig in just yet! You shouldn’t start eating until the host blesses the food and says “bismillah”, meaning “in the name of God”. When you begin the feast, always remember to use your right hand for eating.

Moroccans often use their hands to eat, rather than a knife and fork, but there’s a trick to it. You should hold the bread between your fingers and use your thumb as a scoop… Practice a bit and you’ll be a pro in no time! Moroccan food is delicious and it can be tempting to want to try everything on the table. But if you’re eating from a communal plate in a home, you should only take what is immediately in front of you, unless you’re offered something by the host.

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Tipping etiquette in Morocco

It is customary to tip service staff like waiters, porters, taxi drivers, hotel staff and more in Morocco. You should aim to tip around 10 to 15% and it’s always appreciated.

The art of haggling

Morocco is famous for its vibrant souks (traditional markets), selling everything from spices and tea to lanterns, leather goods and clothing. It’s hard to resist loading up on souvenirs in these enchanting places – so you’ll need to learn the art of haggling. It’s a huge part of Moroccan culture and most locals haggle when buying anything from food to carpets.

The general rule is to never pay more than 70% of the original (and inflated) starting price, and your first offer should be around 50% less than the asking price. If the vendor doesn’t offer you a reasonable deal, you’re not pressured to buy anything and you can walk away. But also remember to remain polite and friendly, and don’t take it too seriously… It’s all part of the fun of shopping in Morocco!

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Don’t criticise the Moroccan monarchy

Morocco has lèse–majesté laws which means it’s illegal to criticise, mock or speak badly about the Moroccan king and the royal family. Defacing the king’s image is also illegal, and breaking these laws could actually land you in jail, so keep your royal opinions to yourself in Morocco.

Don’t disrespect Islam

Another big no-no is criticising Islam. More than 99% of the Moroccan population are Muslim and Islam is the state religion of Morocco. If you disrespect Islam here, you risk offending the locals, and no traveller should go out of their way to be rude to their host. While it’s fine to ask questions in a genuine attempt to learn more about the religion, you should avoid sharing any controversial opinions that may upset the locals.

Also remember that non-Muslims are forbidden from entering certain areas like shrines, mosques, graveyards and koubas (tombs of marabouts or local saints). Even if you’re near a mosque, you should be very respectful and never get too close or look inside, especially if you’re taking a photo. The main exception to this rule is the famous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and it’s a wonderful experience to see the intricate Islamic architecture up close here.

Ask before taking photos

It’s hard to resist taking hundreds of photos a day in this incredible country, but it’s important to be respectful of the locals when getting snap happy. Most Moroccans don’t appreciate being photographed, so you should always ask permission first.

If you’re visiting the famous Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakesh, you’ll need to pay before taking photos of all the amazing dancers, artists and entertainers there, so remember to ask the price before clicking away. You should also know that it’s illegal to take photos of border checkpoints and police and military figures and buildings in Morocco.

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Languages in Morocco

Moroccans are skilled at speaking many languages, and you’ll likely hear everything from Arabic (the official language), to Darija (the local Moroccan dialect). French is also widely spoken in cities, while Spanish is spoken in Tangier. There’s also the dialects spoken by the Berber people, including Tarifit, Tachelhit and Tamazight.

While you might be able to get by with English in the main tourist areas like Marrakesh, Fes and Casablanca, it will be more helpful to learn a few common phrases in Arabic as this is spoken country-wide. You should never expect anyone to speak English, but don’t worry if you don’t speak perfect Arabic – your local Trafalgar Travel Director will be able to help you out with any translations. 

Are you dreaming of a trip to Morocco? Let us know in the comments below!

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