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Common misconceptions and clichés about life in Morocco

Hello everyone,

Old clichés die hard, as the saying goes... and living in Morocco can generate lots of misconceptions in the eyes of the people.

What are the most common misconceptions about the expat lifestyle in Morocco?

What are the most common clichés about life in Morocco in general?

Did you have a biased view of the country before moving there? What is you view now?

Thanks in advance,

Priscilla

Before I moved to Marrakech, I had a general idea about what is the Islamic world. My grandfather worked most of his life as an electrical engineer for a major international development company.  My grandparents lived in exotic places all over the world and  spent several years living in the middle east just before he retired.  My grandmother hated to be told what she was "allowed" to do by herself, but she liked to be waited on. My grandfather used this fact to keep her out of trouble.  They had all sorts of wonderful stories about people and beautiful things they had collected over the years. I was a wide-eyed child so it all seemed rather romantic.  I had assumed North Africa was all pretty much the same as the middle east because it is a country with a strong Arab culture.  I researched Morocco fairly well long before I decided to move. I thought I was pretty smart, so I nust knew it was  going to be exactly like the locations I had seen in the movies and the stories I saw in the news. Of course that was stupid.

Some things were true. I did find a significant disparity between the wealthy and the poor. These 2 groups often live within steps of eachother and are dependant on one another. There is a lot of ld world mixed with new ideas.

But there is much mis conceotion too.

     Misconception: Religion in an obsession for most Moroccans as they are Muslim so they walk around reciting memorized Quran, and go to Mosque and chant prayer 5 time every day.  They are not tollerant of other people's religion.

     Fact:  Most people believe in Islam because it is a family tradition, but struggle to make their prayers even once. Very few people take notice of the call to prayers, but do use it to mark the time of day. Very few people memorize Quran. But, if they study it, they did it as another class in school. Just as around the world, many people choose only selected parts of religion to live by and completely disregard others. Often those parts are taken completely out of context to the original meanings.

     Misconception: Men are allowed to be abusive and control the interactions of women and girls in their families.

     Fact: Women are highly respected by men in Morocco.  They hold the majority of property. They are often in positions of power within the community, major authority figures of their family, and active leadership in business. Women are more likely to be offered employment if the choice is between a man or woman applicant. Female orphans are more likely to be placed in families. Infact orphanages are full of boys while families wanting little girls are put on a waiting list for years.

      Misconception: Women are forbidden fashionable dress and are forced to wear a face veil when out in public and cover their body from head to toe in black fabric drapes.

       Fact: Women in Morocco can choose to wear what ever they want. High fashion is big business here just as it is in America.  There is plenty of bra straps, panty lines, bare skin, and feminine curves are on display. Most people take notice only of those who are trying to make themselves noticed by their clothes. With that said, I will point out most Moroccan women have respect for themselves and their family values guide them to choose to dress with what they consider modesty.  But, modesty is a concept of various meanings depending on who you ask. A few women do insist on being draped completely under a black blanket, but this idea is more often considered counter productive to modesty (as this unusual dress draws unnecessary attention to a woman).  A head scarf is just fashion and rearly required outside of a Mosque. But, many older women choose to wear one all the time anyway. Often a scarf is simply a fashion cheat worn by busy rather than doing a complicated hairstyle with a business suit.  Some younger women have very loose concept of modesty and prefer t-shirts, short pants, and miniskirts in warm weather, and then choose sweaters and jeans in cooler.  Many women of all ages like brightly colored traditional North African jalaba robes. This has little to do with modesty as it is put on over what ever else she wants to wear or not wear underneath. Even pajamas or workout wear is a viable choice to run to the store.

I am so glad to read this I have been to Morocco a lot and plan to move there, but my western friends have this concept of Muslims and what women are treated like and their clothing I have wasted my breath many times explaining its not like that , so thank you for saying it as it is and restoring my sanity lol

Before moving to Morocco, I'd only heard Morocco spoken of a handful of times and that had to do with cuisine, decor, or weddings. 
I think the only misconception that I'd heard about Morocco is that they sit on the floor when eating.
That being said, Nebraska Girl clearly has a lot of misconceptions about Morocco some of which are offensive and utterly false.  Be careful what you say Nebraska in terms of generalizing a people  because you are surrounded by expats and westernized Moroccans.  Just because "most Moroccans" that you know live a certain lifestyle does not mean that most Moroccans live that lifestyle.

Whew! I must be living in a different Morocco. I don't live in a tourist city like Marrakesh so I don't view Morocco through that lens. I have traveled a great deal in this country and lived here for a long time. I grew up in Western Nebraska but do not see this country the way you see it.
  I became acquainted with Islam while living here 40 years ago. My conversion (return) to Islam was an easy choice. Morocco practices a tolerant form of Islam as it was intended by the Prophet (PBUH).  It is a way of life and lived by example.
   My experience has been that Muslims here practice their religion. They pray five times a day and observe the five pillars of Islam. They greet each other with "peace be to you" and say a prayer for you when departing. The mosques I attend for Friday prayers are overflowing and there are mosques everywhere. Everyone observes Ramadan, even as it has advanced through the long, hot days of summer. Even the poorest person pays Zakat  and hopes to save enough for the Hajj. I hear the Koran being listened to in various shops and see it being read in homes and mosques.
   Most of the women I see choose to dress modestly and wear a scarf. Doing so brings respect. Jalabas, kaftans and scarves are often pretty and fashionable and worn by young and old alike. They are worn for modesty and as a custom, not something thrown on to cover poor dress or grooming. Having a fancy hairdo is for special occasions, it is usually combed back modestly. A scarf isn't a fashion cheat.

Very well said! Thank you for taking the time to write! I would echo your exact words in my own experience.

Cheers!

Raelinn

There is an old saying ,`` Before pointing others ,make sure your hands are clean``

First of all let us make sure that we don`t have any KIND OF ISSUES back home and secondly If someone does not likes the culture or traditions of any country should stay away instead of minging like --------

Thanks Raelinn. Happy Islamic New Year!

Fairkon :

Before moving to Morocco, I'd only heard Morocco spoken of a handful of times and that had to do with cuisine, decor, or weddings. 
I think the only misconception that I'd heard about Morocco is that they sit on the floor when eating.
That being said, Nebraska Girl clearly has a lot of misconceptions about Morocco some of which are offensive and utterly false.  Be careful what you say Nebraska in terms of generalizing a people  because you are surrounded by expats and westernized Moroccans.  Just because "most Moroccans" that you know live a certain lifestyle does not mean that most Moroccans live that lifestyle.

This forum is to discuss misconception.  Or did I have a misconception about that too?

I think you need to reread my post. Perhaps not completely following through has lead you to misconceptions about other people too.

As l believe everyone is allowed to have once had a misconception in the past, the only foolish thing is to never gain enough knowledge to change your mind. I am always eager to find truth.

I CLEARLY include the truths I have learned in the 6 years I have lived here with my Moroccan husband and all my Moroccan colleagues and all my Moroccan friends. Moving here changed my missconceptions by broadening my experience and meeting new people. I thought it important to discuss that too.

I itemized my post into sections.
After each old misconception, I included the part about "fact", to clarify the truth I have learned.

I believe I have the wisdom to discover truth that breaks misconception.

I feel You scold me badly for having gone out of my old world and really learn about Morocco and changing my mind.

So what is it you think is offensive about what I have learned while being in Morocco?

By saying "I CLEARLY include the truths I have learned in the 6 years...." you are stating an opinion developed living in your particular environment. Replace "Fact:" with "My perception is:"  or "In my opinion:" or "What I have experienced:". It is less authoritarian and does not paint all of Morocco with such a broad brush.
  We Americans tend to be a bit blunt and opinionated. Its part of our culture. We may not always think through the impact of our comments about the local culture, especially when they come across as criticism. We will always be seen as an outsider, no matter how long we live here. We must be especially mindful of comments about religion, dress and culture made outside our close circle of friends that know us well.

I couldn't agree with you more Hassan.  Moreover, the comments that Nebraska has mistakenly stated as "Fact" are complete rubbish, and yes offensive.   E.g., "Fact:  Most people believe in Islam because it is a family tradition, but struggle to make their prayers even once. Very few people take notice of the call to prayers, but do use it to mark the time of day." 
To say such a thing is to say that Muslims in Morocco don't follow the Arkane al Islam.  Essentially you are saying that Moroccan Muslims are not good Muslims.  Tell me how could it possibly be difficult for you to not understand how offensive that is.  That's practically the biggest insult you could say to a Muslim or most Moroccans.  If you can't understand that, I don't think you have any business living in Morocco to be honest.

HassanMehdia :

By saying "I CLEARLY include the truths I have learned in the 6 years...." you are stating an opinion developed living in your particular environment. Replace "Fact:" with "My perception is:"  or "In my opinion:" or "What I have experienced:". It is less authoritarian and does not paint all of Morocco with such a broad brush.
  We Americans tend to be a bit blunt and opinionated. Its part of our culture. We may not always think through the impact of our comments about the local culture, especially when they come across as criticism. We will always be seen as an outsider, no matter how long we live here. We must be especially mindful of comments about religion, dress and culture made outside our close circle of friends that know us well.

Thank you for you input.

It appears that this is a much more hostile subject matter than I suspect the facilitator intended.

Yes, I am a blunt American and it is part of my culture.  I am not sure I need to be ashamed of it. Debating me really isn't productive to this topic. I hate splitting hairs over semantics.

Forgive me.
To be offensive was not my intention when I opted to join this topic of discussion. I wasn't trying to attack any part of Moroccan culture when I pointed out that the false images of Morocco  the Western culture has manifested doesn't reflect the reality of modern life in Morocco.  I honestly thought the misconceptions I had resolved were far more offensive than the truths I learned about them. I am sorry for you if you don't like it or you think I am wrong for sharing. I fully understand that other people may not see the world as I do. I would never want everyone to see everything "my way". 

I would be curiosity to hear other people's misconceptions and what they found to be THEIR truth.

Hard to believe but when I was told I was being sent to Morocco 41 years ago I had to be reminded where it was. And this after living in London a few years earlier. I had little knowledge about this place. It was still often referred to as "French" Morocco and Kenitra as Port Lyautey 20 years after the French left. I saw the movie "Patton" and knew some about Operation Torch. And there was the movie "Casablanca" made in Hollywood that was fantasy.  There was still some French influence here due to the language and quite a few French citizens were still living here. I had heard about Arab hospitality and the good food which turned out to be true. (Yes, I now know that Morocco is not just an Arab country). I guess I wasn't burdened by a lot of misconceptions and was excited about traveling to another new country.
  There were a lot of Americans living around Kenitra then and I soon heard a lot of misconceptions and clichés, some good and some bad.  One was there were a lot of beggars. The truth was that it is not looked down on in Islamic countries and giving a few dirhams to a poor person is a sign of charity and respect.  I soon learned to carry some change and to pass it with the right hand. I usually received a prayer or blessing back. The other was that Americans were always charged double in shops. The truth was you had to learn how to bargain, not get angry or frustrated and when to respectfully walk away. You also came to understand that something was a bargain or worth what you paid if you were satisfied even if you found out later that someone else got a better deal because they were better at negotiating.
   I was fortunate to live in a small apartment in Kenitra and to start mixing with ordinary Moroccans every day. It took about a year to become immersed in the culture and awhile longer to understand and appreciate it and I am still learning. It started to sink in that most of the world resembled Morocco and not America. There was a lot of poverty but a lot of dignity and charity. Families were close knit. People sat around a common table, some on a floor cushion sharing a common plate eating with their hands. Many slept on mats or rugs on the floor. Homes were laid out with common rooms where everyone ate and slept and private bedrooms for one or two people were uncommon. These customs are still common. (Yes, couches and beds are now the norm but I still sleep on the floor when visiting family and friends at their farms, it is cooler but my bones protest in the morning. I still share a common table and plate but use a spoon to eat cous-cous. And the villa I live in and those around me have bedrooms, built in closets and a private bath.)
  As close as I am to this country, lately I have often become detached from life here. I live in a nice villa on the beach with most of the same convenience of my American home. Spend too much time on the Internet, watch too much American TV, often shop at Aswak Assalam and really like the new toll roads. I start to forget how difficult life is here for so many. I am happiest when I get away from tv and Internet and back out into life here. Fortunately I still eat meals the same way, shop at the outdoor markets and small local shops and recently visited a large rural souk, which hasn't changed much, to buy a sheep for the holiday. There are always family and friends stopping by and as per custom always welcome, often staying overnight or a few days. The man selling fish from the back of his bicycle passes by nearly every day.   The woman with the small donkey cart stops by once or twice a week to pick up stale bread and plastic bottles. She appears to have a hard life but doesn't give up and always has a smile. Her little girl runs up to give a hug and appreciates the small gifts.
  My views are my own based on my experience here and may not match what most others experience but I believe I would be safe with a few clichés of my own:
  -  I believe most Moroccans judge a person more for their kindness, charity, piety and family values. Not their wealth, color of their skin, how influential they are, how fashionable their clothes are, what kind of car they drive, or if they live in a fancy villa or a shack.
   -  To truly appreciate another country or culture it must be lived.

I've had an interesting time here since my arrival. My situation is likely unique. I was relocated here for some contract work and pretty much fully hosted by my employer. Our arrangement happened very quickly over the course of a month and I had not been planning to move, much less so far away from everything I know in the USA. I've lived abroad before, but in Western Europe which ultimately is not so terribly different from the USA as conveniences and customs go. I started reading everything I could in order to prepare for my journey---what are the customs, what is culturally acceptable/unacceptable, religious holidays and observances, about the foods and the general way of life here.

This is all just my own personal experience so far, so please don't take it as a blanket judgement.

I too ran across some misconceptions that have been proved false or at least not nearly as exaggerated as they seemed:

1. Women have to wear djellaba and hijab outside at all times.  - While most local women here in Tangier do prefer to wear this modest clothing, it is well tolerated for Western women to dress as they normally do if it is not too revealing. I wear long pants, long skirts, try to keep my arms and chest at least covered in a dignified fashion and a little more so on Friday (day of prayer) and on holy days out of respect for the culture. People notice, of course, but are, in my experience, mostly respectful that you are foreign. I think my short hair is more fascinating that my clothing. I have on 2 occasions, however, been hissed at and several times "hola'd" or "bonjour'd" as I walk along. But that is all.

2. The people do not like Westerners. - Utterly false. I am certain that, like anywhere in the world, there are people who do not tolerate outsiders; however, on the whole, every local I've met here in Morocco has been incredibly kind and generous, always wishing to help in any way possible and not expecting anything in return but the same respect and kindness---in fact moreso than any other country I have ever visited. The kindness and generosity overall are impressive and we could all take a good lesson from it.

3. People will hustle you. - This just depends where you are. In the Medina, sure. There are people who want to guide you to the shops of their friends and get extra money. There are more people here just begging. There are shops who try to over charge you, but it's their job to make money. And if you're too stupid to negotiate a price, well... maybe you deserve to pay! :)  There are just as many, or more, hustlers in the train stations in Rome and I did NOT expect that. Plus the ones in Rome are SUPER aggressive and here they are at least polite if you say no thank you.

4. There is no alcohol. - Totally false. You can buy it in local stores who are permitted to sell it and in bars, of which there are many here in Tangier. I'm in the culinary and wine travel business, so you can imagine my chagrin to hear that it is difficult to get wine! Happily this is not the case and I have had the opportunity to try many Moroccan wines, which are ridiculously inexpensive and, much to my pleasant surprise, taste amazing! (especially for the price.)

5. The men will want to date you to try and marry you for your passport. For me so far, totally false. Everyone is entirely respectful and kind.

Those are all I can think of at the moment. But I do have some great stories of visiting some Moroccan homes over the holidays. I was invited to the home of my host for the end of Hajj to the ram sacrifice. It was an honor to be invited. And I can concur that the families here that I know best are incredibly close knit, with the grandmother and even some cousins living in the same home with them. They all eat together often. The family are wealthy so they do enjoy more westernized furniture. But even so, they do have one part of the home that is quite traditional with a tea service area on the floor with cushions and very traditional antique tea service.

Thanks to the others for sharing your experiences.

In kindness,

Raelinn

It sounds like your experience here Raelinn has not only been enlightening but as well a really great experience.  I have as well been awakened by some of the family values exercised in Morocco.  I would agree that often people from Western countries paint all Muslim countries with the same brush.  Meaning that they don't decipher the difference between the middle east and north Morocco.  I have as well noticed that at times expats will become frustrated with the fact that they are being offered a price at twice that of which the item would usually be sold.  It often has not to do with their skin color but the fact that they are not local.  I have seen the same being done here in Casablanca when a customer with a Tangier accent is proposed a price.  That being said, effectively all vendors ask a somewhat exaggerated price of their customers in expectation of the negotiation to come.  Of which I've seen all of the above in NY city.

Salamu alaykum all,

How about this rain today, Marrakech. :)

Personally, I underestimated the importance of family to Moroccans before living here. I have a much greater appreciation and respect for family relationships and the importance of emotional and financial support systems. My lovely grandmother in the U.S., who has multiple grown capable children, lives in a nursing home where nobody visits or calls. This is not something I can imagine occurring here, which I really appreciate. I don't catch up with family as often as people would expect here. People also immediately ask about my family, which was new and strange for me. Labas, keydeira, colshi behir, l'ila behir, saha behir?? So nice.

Before living here I didn't really grasp the language differences in Morocco and it still fascinates me. I thought everyone at least shared one common language. But I've met Moroccans who only speak French at home and feel very connected to French culture and whose children don't speak fluent Arabic. I know Moroccans who don't speak a lick of French past some words they remember from school days. And I know Moroccans who speak four or five languages. I've met a couple Berber folks who only spoke Amazigh and some Arabic. Being an American whose friends and family, sadly, are impressed that I fluently know just one other language (ha!), it's humbling the number of languages spoken here, the effort made by others to learn a little of other languages, and the effort made to communicate and understand. There are so many layers to people's rich Moroccan identities and different communities, and things that could separate them, but it doesn't seem to be such a big deal to Moroccans. Makein moshkil.

Not really a misconception, but something new. One of my favorite things about the culture here is the tendency to look for natural solutions, for health issues for instance. To treat the body with food and herbs and spices. I love that and I've learned a lot of natural remedies and more about my own physiology.

Hammam. I thought I'd be judged or looked at odd for going to traditional hammam where only Moroccans go. I've gotten some curious glances but that's it. Some suspicion. Nothing a simple smile and 'salaam' doesn't dissolve. I've gone so many times with my sister-in-law now that the ladies there know me and I feel very welcome.

All of that being said, I thought my "salaamu alaykum" would always be received with a kind "wa alaykum salaam" but I've found disturbingly that sometimes it's regarded as an offensive attempt of a foreigner to speak the local language. I've gotten silence and many sneers for it. It seems to be in touristy areas where people seem annoyed to hear me speak Arabic and not French with them. Or I'll speak Arabic and they'll respond in French. I'm over it now, but it was a sad reality when I first moved here and really wanted to connect.

Nebraska, your comments are interesting. I think instead of two extremes, the truth is usually somewhere in between. Right? There's nothing wrong with having misconceptions when you arrive, and learning from them, but if your misconceptions are wrong that doesn't mean the only other possibility is that the exact opposite is true. In my opinion, it doesn't benefit the culture you live in, or the image of it, to glorify it and ignore the nuances and downfalls. Your misconception about men's abusive treatment of women and your "fact" afterward are both extremes. Very black or white. I'd say it's more grey. I've had frank discussions with Moroccan women here. Catcalling/harassment, rape, lack of education for girls: these are real issues that Moroccan women fight against here. Women are often in positions of power? Certainly not. Business leaders? Yes, absolutely. Family leaders? Sure, highly deeply respected in families. All of this is to say, in my experience after moving here I did the same thing. "Which one is true? Is **** wonderful or terrible?" And it was difficult and tricky to catch myself trying to judge everything with broad strokes good or bad, and see everything so much more nuanced and truly see the natural contradictions that exist here, just like in other countries.

Moroccans are not Muslim only out of family tradition and do pay attention to the adhans. Headscarves are most certainly not just fashion, nor are they only worn by older women. I know/see many people who pray regularly. I find Moroccans deeply religious, but practicing on various levels like any other religious group. But when everyday conversation and greetings mention God in many ways, I think it shows a spirituality that is very present and relevant to everyday life. The regular mix of modern/Westernized life and ancient traditions is neat.

The price issue for foreigners here I do run into with taxi drivers assuming I'm a tourist. That one's still a bit tricky to navigate.

I learned how bad of an idea it is for a non-Moroccan to discuss the Moroccan Sahara  issue. Just don't touch that subject. ;)

Thanks for sharing, everybody.

Best,
Denise

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