Moroccans are typically welcoming and friendly people. If you are fortunate to make Moroccan friends or be welcomed into a family, it will make your stay all the more memorable and give you friends for life!
Having said this, Moroccan culture can be very different to ‘home’ and a few simple pointers will ensure you make the most of your trip.
Morocco is a Muslim country, so it goes without saying that you should be mindful of your public behaviour and the way in which you choose to dress. In cities, you will see Moroccans dressing at all points along a spectrum from conservative Muslim costume to modern western-style clothes.
In tourist areas, Western casual wear is tolerated, although it is still best to dress modestly. Both men and women should aim to cover their shoulders and women’s dresses, shorts and skirts should fall at least to the knee. More conservative or less educated Moroccans have limited experience of other countries or dress codes and may make judgements based on your attire. For women in particular, a more modest dress code can help avoid such judgements and unwanted attention.
In the more remote or rural areas, you will see everyone is much more covered up and so modest clothing should always be worn, with both men and women covering their shoulders and legs. If entering a religious site, shoes should be removed and women should cover their heads with a scarf.
Beachwear is accepted in tourist beach resorts, however you should not change your clothes on the beach. Instead, use a beachside changing cabin.
Smoking and drinking
Many Moroccan people smoke and drink alcohol despite the rules of Islam. As a tourist we recommend that you observe the behaviour of those Moroccans whom you are with and smoke/drink alcohol discreetly and in moderation. It’s no bad thing to ask your host or guide for permission or guidance in order to show respect. Never smoke inside a private home unless you are invited to. It is rare to see Moroccan women smoking in the street, and even men tend to smoke indoors, e.g. in cafes.
During Ramadan (the fasting month), tourists should avoid smoking or drinking while in the company of Moroccans.
Before taking photos of people, always ask their permission first. Do not be surprised if your request is refused. Women in rural and conservative communities will often not allow you to take their picture and say “pas de photo”. Some may allow you to take a photo and may want to be paid for the privilege.
Meeting and greeting in public
When introductions are made, it is quite customary to ask after your counterpart’s family and health.
In traditional families and communities, men and women seldom mix. The most common way to greet a person of the same gender in Morocco is to either offer a light handshake. Moroccans who have a lot of contact with foreigners will often shake the hands of men and women. More religious people will not have any physical contact with those of the opposite sex and men may refuse to shake the hand of a woman. This should not be taken as an insult - it is very common among pious Muslims.
Among family and friends of the same sex, Moroccans are very effusive with their greetings and once you are well-acquainted with your Moroccan friends, you will become absorbed into a ritual of simultaneous handshaking kissing of both cheeks (kissing the left cheek first). This should only be done with a person of the same gender. Don’t be surprised if older women another woman several times on one cheek, or even on the forehead - be ready!
In public, you should be aware that it is considered good manners for men and women to leave space in between one another. Handholding is only usually seen as a platonic gesture between people of the same sex. Public displays of affection (even between Westerners) are not really acceptable or respectful to local traditions.
For a woman to sit alone in a bar or cafe is socially unacceptable, unless it is a frequented by tourists. Women should be very alert to the possibility that they may seen as prostitutes! If female and planning to venture out alone, avoid male-dominated local cafes and bars. it is best to attempt to go out in a group or be accompanied by a man. Women should also be wary of men contravening the advice above and seeking to be ‘over friendly.’
Visiting a Moroccan home and etiquette
You may find that during your stay in Morocco, you will be invited into a family home for a meal. It is always customary for a Moroccan to offer food whenever you visit, and it would be seen as quite rude to refuse this offer. Likewise, if you are offered a present when invited into the home, you should always graciously accept. You do not have to open your gift in front of your host – equally you shouldn’t expect your host to open your present either. Gifts should be relatively small - sweets, pastries or flowers are all popular gifts. Bringing a small gift for any children in the home would also be well received.
In more conservative households, men and women will dine separately, so if planning on bringing a spouse or partner, you should always find out beforehand if this is the case.
In Morocco, it is proper etiquette to dress conservatively, remove your shoes and clean your hands before each meal. Although the host/hostess may offer small plates to eat from, Moroccans typically all eat from one communal dish. Eat only with your right hand and use bread as a substitute for cutlery (bread can be taken with the left but should only be dipped in the communal bowl with your right). For reasons of hygiene, it is expected that you wash your hands before eating. You will be shown a sink or bathroom or a small basin will be provided before the meal, over which water is poured onto your hands to wash them. Wait for your host to invite you to begin eating.