Morocco Travel Guide - Cultural Tips & Languages
The Kingdom of Morocco is an attractive destination for travelers that seek exotic experiences, unique architecture, dramatic land contrasts, and delicious food.
Morocco is historically encompassing many cultural influences. It is located in North Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and lies directly across from the Gibraltar of Spain. As a result, Moroccan culture is a combination of Berber, Arabian, European, and African roots.
This blend of ethnic traditions and customs can make your trip to Morocco a bit confusing at first. To make your visit enjoyable, we are sharing cultural and communication tips from the perspective of a Moroccan native.
Spoken Languages & Communication
Language is the direct way to intrinsically connect with other cultures. In Morocco, the main spoken languages are Arabic, Tamazight, French, Spanish, and English.
Dialect Arabic is the mother tongue of over two-thirds of Moroccans, but they can also speak one or more other languages depending on the region.
Arabic is the First Official Language of Morocco
It should be noted that classical or traditional Arabic is very different from Moroccan Arabic called “Darija”- the most widely used language in the country.
Classical Arabic is only heard in schools, administrations, and mosques. On the other hand, Darija is used in homes and streets. It is not understood by other Arabic speakers and differs in accent from one province to another, especially between the northern and southern cities.
Learning some words in Dialect Darija will facilitate your communication with local Moroccans. It will help you gain their respect and trust, bargain with local merchants, get good deals, and understand the nuances of the country.
Tamazight is the Indigenous language of Morocco
Like all North African countries, the indigenous people of Morocco are Amazigh Berbers. They live throughout the country, mainly in the Rif and Atlas Mountains.
Over the centuries, more than three hundred Berber dialects have evolved. The three major ones are Tarifit, Tamazight, and Tachelhit. In 2011, the government made Tamazight another official language of Morocco, like Arabic.
We recommend that you learn some basic words (e.g. Please, Can you help me, and Thank you) before visiting the Amazigh regions. An attempt to speak the local language will be highly valued and lead to a warm welcome.
Spanish is Useful in the Moroccan North
The north of Morocco is more influenced by Spanish culture. It is common to hear people frequently speak Spanish in cities like Tangier, Chefchaouen, and Tetouan.
If you can talk in Spanish, you will find it easier to navigate the northern cities.
French is the Second Unofficial Language- Spoken Everywhere
Due to the historically long relationships between Morocco and France, French is spoken by most Moroccans in the whole country, except for the rural areas. It is the language of business, the government, and universities. The Moroccan bourgeois circles use it more than Arabic.
If you speak fluent French, you will be understood almost everywhere. Otherwise, you'll still find it easier to familiarize yourself with French than Arabic to understand street signs, and communicate with taxi drivers.
English is an Emerging Language in Morocco
Particularly in big cities, the educated youth are increasingly learning English as the first international language of Exchange.
Even though English is not a popular language in Morocco yet, rest assured that it's understood in most hotels, restaurants, and tourism agencies.
Cultural and Etiquette Tips
Moroccans are known for their hospitality and acceptance of western cultures. Although most people are religious, they are easy-going. Still, Morocco is a conservative country with ethnic and religious traditions that you should know before traveling.
Moroccans generally don’t like to be photographed- Ask Before Taking Photos.
Most people in Morocco don’t like to be photographed because they view it as a privacy invasion. Make sure you engage in a small conversation and ask for permission first. Most of the time, the reaction entirely depends on your approach.
Extra care should be taken about photographing women, especially in rural areas; It is not acceptable for social and religious reasons.
In Marrakech, you might be required to pay the performers before taking pictures in Jamea El Fna square.
Ramadan Culture in Morocco
Like all Islamic countries, Ramadan is a holy celebration that lasts a month every year in Morocco. At that time of the year, all Moroccans fast from sunrise to sunset. The purpose is to focus on spiritual renovation and exclude food, drinks (including water), tobacco, and sexual activity.
Every day at sunrise, families gather around a food table that looks like a celebration feast called “Lftour”. This is a great opportunity to delve into the culture and customs of the country, but it needs some planning beforehand.
Of course, you are not required to fast, but it is expected that you don’t eat or drink anything in public places.You can buy everything you need to eat and drink for the day the evening before.
Table and Domestic Etiquette
Moroccans love to host people for food. If you befriend a local community, you’ll likely be invited over for a traditional ceremony or a family meal. They will welcome you with open hearts and a friendly attitude. These rules of thumb will make your visit delightful:
- It is not a must, but bringing a gift to your hosts is a nice gesture. It doesn't have to be fancy, ideally something you can share during the meal (fruits, soda, juice, dessert).
- For female travelers, it is more appropriate to avoid overly revealing clothes when you visit a Moroccan family.
- Leave your shoes by the door when entering the home. Avoid walking over the rugs with your shoes on. Moroccan rugs are well preserved and respected craftworks in Moroccan homes.
- Another Moroccan table etiquette is to eat what's in front of you using your right hand.
- Use your first two fingers and a thumb when you eat directly from the plate.
- It is good manners to accept the food offered to you; especially the best morsels that your host will most likely put on your side of the plate.
- In a gathering meal like Couscous or Refissa, the meat is often left for last. So, don’t take it until given to you.
- It is common courtesy to remember names, ask about the family, children, and health. Greetings are very appreciated by Moroccans. It’s a way to say: “I care about you”.
- Finally, thank the host for their hospitality and delicious food.
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