Moroccan Travel Sense: A Practical Guide for Westerners

I am struck by the nonsensical nature of bus tourists. Here we are, standing in a sacred place – a mausoleum – and everyone is grouping together and taking pictures. You can hear “smile!” coming from all directions. I lean over to my husband and say: “Smile! You are at a gravesite!” He laughs.

It makes me fear that the differences between our nations are rooted far deeper than I had ever expected. Our Bedouin bus guide looks at us with an all-knowing permanent smile that indicates he is not surprised by anything that Westerners do in his country.

Welcome to Morocco, where you are the star attraction.

MONEY SENSE

Wear a money belt. For those that find the traditional belt uncomfortable, try the newer styled money pouches that attach to your actual belt and tuck right inside of your pants or skirt. Good ones are made by Eagle Creek and can be found at many luggage stores. Only carry spending money in your wallet – keep credit cards and bankcards in your money belt. If needed, just pull extra cash or your credit card out in a safe spot. Moroccans are often flabbergasted at Westerners pulling out rolls of money. Keep in mind that you are in a country where the “have-nots” significantly outnumber the “haves.”

Bargaining and haggling. For Moroccans, this is an art. For you – it is an experience! When you get a price – and you are really certain that you want the item – offer Ã?¼ to Ã?½ the original price. Be reasonable. Think about what you would most likely really pay for that item. You will talk, ask questions, and get a counter offer. If you end up paying somewhere around Ã?½ of the original price, be happy. You will find out that you paid $20 for an item and a fellow tour member paid $2. That is part of the experience. Laugh. Secret: If you discover that haggling leaves a bad taste in your mouth – make friends with someone who is good at it! You will be surprised at how many people shy away from it. Give it a try. Moroccans in the market do not understand the Western concept of pre-priced items.

CLOTHING

Bring a sun hat, sunglasses and a good sun block (spf 30). Morocco can be temperate in areas, but it can also reach temperatures as high as 110 F in the spring. Plan on sticking out like a Westerner no matter what you do – at least protect your skin from sun damage.

Shorts, while comfortable, are not seen frequently in Morocco. They are the equivalent of prancing about in your undergarments. The advertisement is not appreciated by all and it is strongly recommended that women avoid shorts altogether. In some areas they are frowned upon while in others they are ignored or tolerated. By going “local” and wearing pants or a skirt – you keep the hot sun off of your body and don’t draw extra attention to yourself.

RELIGION & LIFE

Politics are not readily discussed. The personal life of the King is not discussed. The King’s finances are not discussed. Comparing Christianity to Islam in an argumentative manner is not tolerated. Attempting to convert a Muslim is not tolerated.

It can be difficult for Westerners to understand. We live in a media soaked world, we are political animals and the personal lives of royalty fill the tabloid stands in grocery stores. This is not the case in Morocco. Questions about such things make tour guides, and Moroccans in general, visibly uncomfortable.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Morocco offers one of the most colorful photography experiences in the world. So much is new to your eyes and you will want to capture as much of it as possible. However, be wary of the following points:

A camera almost always identifies you as a Westerner. Unless you are a professional, keep the expensive equipment at home and take along a small, less ostentatious version. Many Moroccans do not take well to being photographed – especially without permission. If you accidentally take someone’s picture, you may be expected to pay a fee to that person. There are certain guards that are illegal to photograph. Ask your city guide to point out the different uniforms and explain them to you.

Modern Morocco struggles with contradiction. A weary donkey loaded down with enough propane to fuel a jet plane. A milky-eyed child sits on the ground with his wares spread out in front of him. This includes an oddly out-of-place pair of yellow rubber dishwashing gloves. A set of frilly underwear sways from clothesline in a merchant’s stall. Western influence is there, but the exhibition of a Western tourist is still an attraction.

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