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Learning the Social Customs of Morocco

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Most Moroccans are Muslim, and some follow the daily schedule of praying five times per day. The weekends are Thursday and Friday, and almost everything is closed on Fridays. During Ramadan, expats are not required to participate in the fasting, but should not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public.

Moroccans place high value in honor and pride; dignity is reflected by individuals and all members of their extended families. They will do anything to maintain their honor. This is reflected in the way that other people see them, so they make sure to keep a respectable reputation. They avoid “hshuma,” which is a guilty feeling after they know they have done something bad. They will often refrain from certain activities in public in order to not face this.

The center of the Moroccan social life is one’s family. People are close with their extended families, and their individual interests come after the interests of the greater family. They have a lot of respect for the elder members of the family, and will put great emphasis in their opinions.

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When Moroccans greet each other, they will usually shake hands with members of the same sex. Moroccans who know each other will spend some time talking about people they know and other topics. Westerners may find Moroccan handshakes to be rather weak. When people start to know each other, members of the same sex will kiss each other on both cheeks. If a man and woman happen to greet each other, the woman usually extends her hand first, or the man must bow to her. If you are meeting a bunch of people at once, you should shake hands with the person to your right, and then go around the room from right to left. When you leave, say bye to everyone individually.

If you are invited to a Moroccan house, you should bring a gift of pastries, figs, dates or just flowers. As it is a Muslim society, many people don’t drink, so don’t bring wine unless you know for sure that the hosts drink. If there is a child, you can bring a small gift for them, but it’s not required. Gifts are not opened when received. Dress conservatively but stylishly; take off your shoes before you go into the house. Don’t assume that you can bring your spouse along, as some Moroccans will only hold single-gender parties.

Pay attention to the Moroccan table manners, as they are quite different from Western ones. When you eat, the food will usually go on a knee-high round table. Moroccans will usually pass around a washing basin to cleanse your hands before you start your meal, and will provide you with a towel to dry them off. Don’t start eating until the host directs this, or starts eating. Food bowls are communal, but you should eat from the section that is in front of you. You should scoop up food with a piece of bread. Only use the right hand for eating, the left is considered unclean. Drinking water is served in a communal glass as well. At the end of the meal, they will bring out the washing basin again.

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