As my time in Morocco is coming to an end I’ve been reflecting a lot about what I’ve learned from this culture and about myself. Today I thought I’d share with you some things that are very different here vs. the US. First I’d like to point out that Morocco is a collective society, meaning that the views of the group are the primary entity. What that really means in Morocco is that individual people do not own anything – if something is mine then it’s yours. Headphones are not used because if I’m watching a YouTube video everyone around me wants to watch/listen as well, right? Food is always shared. And if you leave clothespins on the roof someone will use them. In the beginning this was a very hard adjustment but after two years I’ve come to embrace the ‘what’s mine is yours’ concept.
Greetings are a big part of a Moroccans day. You ALWAYS greet those you pass and everyone in a room when you enter. Here’s how I greet people in my village:
*words I use: Salam! Labas? Kulshi mezyan? Hamdullah! (Basically, Peace, are you fine, everything good, Praise God) Some people now simply say to me ‘Laila labas?’
*how I greet men (or large groups/people I don’t know) handshake and then place right hand over the heart (I will probably continue doing this for a long time!)
*how I greet women, especially those I’m close to: cheek kisses (or presses really); this one gets tricky because everyone does it different. Some times it’s one kiss per cheek, some times it’s one on one side and two on the other, and some times it’s three on one side only or three and one. You kinda have to just go with the flow. And with my host mom and counterpart there is a little bit of lingering on the last kiss – kind of like a hug.
*greeting older women: older women, especially if they are your grandparent or parent, comes with a special greeting of kissing the hand – then she kisses yours and then break free and put your finger tips to your lips (sometimes I place my hand over my heart). Adult children usually kiss the forehead of their parent or grandparent. This is a sign of respect.
When walking down the street it is the responsibility of the person walking to greet those sitting or standing on the road. Most of the time I simply say Salam! and wave my hand. Because I’m a foreigner, I do get a lot of ‘Bonjour! Ca va?’ but I always respond in Arabic. French is the second language of the country (the third language for many people) and Moroccans assume you speak French over Arabic. Those who speak some English will greet with me ‘Hello!’ And I’ve started responding in English because it helps them become more comfortable speaking a language they are uncomfortable with.
Morocco is known for its hospitality. Being from the south in the US I thought I knew what hospitality meant, but no. Random strangers will invite you in for tea or a meal. You are encouraged you to make yourself comfortable and it’s even ok to take a nap in anyone’s house! As I mentioned before, food is always shared. You can show up at someone’s house unannounced and they never blink an eye. They immediately start fixing tea and tell you to stay for food. This is honestly one of my favorite aspects of living in this country.
Personal space. Shew. As a pretty individualistic American I’ve always craved my personal space and didn’t want anyone encroaching on it. My own personal space is an arms length or more. When I sit down in public places I always look for a space as far away from people as possible. Tiny, crowded spaces have always given me anxiety. But it’s hard to live in Morocco and not adopt some of their non-personal space ways. Moroccans literally fill in every tiny space possible. I’ve watched women squeeze in between people and fit perfectly in a space that not even a cell phone would fit! In my area we routinely put 9-10 people in a taxi designed for 6. Families all sleep in one room and crowd around small tables eating out of communal dishes. When I lived with my first host family up north I always found myself sitting on the opposite side of the room from everyone else. Now I find myself squeezing in to the tiny space next to my host mom while I enjoy tea. Women next to you in taxis/buses/trains will put their hand on your knee. When volunteers get together we sleep several people to a room and I no longer find this weird. I’m not sure how I will react to personal space when I return to America. But for now I find comfort in sharing my space with those around me.
This is just a tiny glimpse in to some of the ways I’ve changed and what I’ve learned from this beautiful culture.