In this blog, I will discuss some of the aspects of Morocco you need to bear in mind once you arrive there such as:
- Female travellers (clothing, safety and gender interaction)
- Cultural quirks
Morocco is a delight when it comes to shopping and the old markets (souqs) in Fes and Marrakech are especially not to be missed. Fes medinah (old part of Fes, which has its famous souq) is actually the biggest of its kind, with 4,000 streets and 90,000 dead ends.
The small medinah space is shared by many people, mules, shops, mosques, and eateries. The clamour generated as a result of this congestion results in a very animated atmosphere.
I have mentioned some popular souvenirs from Morocco, and where possible included the shop from where I bought these souvenirs. Our tour guide provided access to some really high-quality goods, so the prices were slightly higher than market but it was worth it. In all the places that we went, we were provided with a tour in English detailing the processes that are involved in making these products.
- Leather: Chouara tanneries, or the famous Fes tanneries
- The smell is highly offensive, but mint leaves (handed out on arrival) provide some relief
- Ceramics: Serghini Maitre Potier et Zellige Fasi, Fes
- Argan oil: La Caravane Des Epices in Ouarzazate
- This is a herbal store with an English speaking herbalist giving demonstrations on the uses of various medicinal plants in Morocco
- The village of Aguelmous near Tizi N’Tichka pass also has a women’s Argan oil cooperative (Cooperative Feminine Arfa), which sells authentic argan oil products handmade by the local village women.
- Kaftans: Weaver’s cooperative, Fes
- Djellaba (traditional Moroccan dress, pronounced as ‘jelaabaa’): Weaver’s cooperative, Fes
- Silk: Weaver’s cooperative, Fes
These souqs are a great place to buy anything traditional Moroccan. But you do need to haggle really hard. Some people love the challenge of it and that is great because it is an expected part of the culture. For the rest, try not to get flustered and take it all in stride.
My tips for souqs:
- The souqs can be really tempting, especially with the shopkeepers being very persistent. And because you are on a holiday, watching your finances would be a worry far far away. But to avoid overspending, make a list of what you would like and for who and stick to it.
- You will be sold the goods at a higher price than the locals, but haggling will still bring the price down slightly.
- When haggling, start at 50% of the stated price. And look and feel confident.
- Learn some common Arabic words and phrases as many Moroccans are not fluent in English. Especially know basic numbers that you can use during haggling.
- Do not get too worked up if the shopkeeper does not agree to your price after a few attempts. Just try to enjoy this unique experience- you can either pay him/her or continue at another store.
Malls in Morocco are another great place to shop if you are after Western style clothing and apparel. Morocco has good fashion due to its proximity to Europe, and a number of French brands such as ‘Camaieu’ can be easily found. The prices are also much cheaper compared to Australia. Special mention to the brand ‘Marwa’, which is being heralded by fashion critics as Morocco’s Zara. Supermarkets such as ‘Acima’ and ‘Carrefour’ can be used to buy Moroccan spices and other groceries unique to Morocco.
As far as I know, by law, there are no dress restrictions on women. However, by culture women in Morocco are expected to dress conservatively compared to their western counterparts. This dressing expectation goes for men too by the way- you will not find a man in Morocco dressed in shorts and singlets outside his home. But, this by no means should be interpreted as a threat to be covered from head to toe, or else.
Dressing in winter is easy. Just layer up with long sleeved tops, jumpers, coats, whatever to make yourself feel warm. There is no obligation to wear a scarf, but you can wear it to add extra colour and warmth to your outfit. I saw plenty of women wearing skinny jeans in Morocco, so I suppose with bottoms one can wear something tight. If the bottom is tight, then just make sure that your top comes past your hips (it is considered culturally appropriate to cover the hips and chest with something loose- loose top, scarf, skirt or really loose pants).
Summers might be a bit tricky because it can get quite hot in Morocco and you can’t exactly walk around in shorts or miniskirts (unless you fancy unwanted attention). To keep it real, you can wear a loose T-shirt or a top, coupled with a long skirt or loose pants. Alternatively, wear a maxi dress that can be dressed up or down depending on where you are headed in Morocco.
Make sure your shoulders and upper arms are covered well, and that there is no sign of cleavage.
I have heard conflicting reports regarding whether in summer women should cover their arms fully or halfway. I am not sure on this one as I travelled to Morocco during winter. But just to be on the safe side keep a long sleeved thin jacket or cover up with you.
In rural settings, there is not much variety in terms of what women tend to wear. Every woman I met wore a djellaba (Morocco’s traditional dress) along with a hijab. Djellaba basically is a long loose cloak with a hoodie attached and looks something like this:
Djellabas are quite comfortable and are worn in the cities as well. It is not a gender specific dress and men are equally fond of them. It is especially comfortable when winters are being brutal.
Keeping the conservative rural mindset in perspective, it might be a smart idea to avoid tight clothing altogether when you are in a village. Wear full sleeved clothing, if possible. However, scarf is still optional. Villagers will be one of the friendliest people you will meet and I was even invited inside the kitchen of one of the families to witness their food being prepared. But remember, these people have not been exposed to different cultures too many times, so if they feel some sort of connection with you- even if it is over modest clothing- they will find it easier to open up to you and you will become intimate with a part of Morocco that not many people get to experience.
Interaction between genders
While Morocco is not a restrictive as Saudi in terms of gender interaction, it is still a relatively conservative society. I was not there long enough to understand the gender dynamics within different age groups and different socioeconomic classes, but as a female traveller, I would definitely advise other female travellers to avoid getting too friendly with the men, as it would be interpreted as a sign of interest. Just stick to the main conversation and once you have exchanged the information you require, you do not have the obligation to continue the conversation. Otherwise, you will be surprised how quickly a simple aimless conversation will turn into requests for your phone number or email address or facebook ID.
I would like to begin the section with this disclaimer: if a man is a pervert, he will harass any woman he pleases- conservative clothing is not a deterrent. Moroccan women get catcalled by men, even the ones that are dressed quite modestly i.e. wearing a hijab (Islamic headscarf) so to speak.
But in all honesty, I found Morocco to be safe for women. I have been out on the streets of Fes, Casablanca and Marrakech at night by myself and it was fine. I have seen women out at night alone taking public transport by themselves. Yes, there have been instances of catcalling but they were merely small annoyances in my otherwise amazing trip.
There is indeed a big range in terms of how different female bloggers feel about the harassment issue. The main point they are all making is that confidence helps a lot. If you are feeling unsafe but stay confident, then you will know where to draw the line. You will know when to talk back firmly or walk off or draw attention to yourself for help. But obviously, normal travel precautions apply. Please do not venture into quiet, dim lit areas whether you are by yourself or in a group. And if you plan on staying out till late at night, the make sure you are with a group and know how to get back.
Cultural norms and some quirks
Morocco has these cute little ‘cafes’ which actually are tea/coffee houses, where traditionally men sit inside and outside all day around sipping mint tea and generally just chit chat. As a woman, it can be very confronting entering these tea houses as the men inside seem a bit territorial. Don’t get me wrong: there was no harassment, but I did feel as if women were not welcome there. I never spotted any women inside or outside the tea houses during my 15-day trip there and upon consulting our group leader, he did mention how it was culturally inappropriate for women to enter such places. Apparently, in olden times women used to entertain their friends inside their homes as their movement was restricted. Even though these days, women can be seen freely walking everywhere in Morocco, the tea house tradition has still continued. There are plenty of ‘regular’ cafes in Moroccan cities, where everyone is welcome.
- Smoking is allowed inside buildings in Morocco.
- Street names can either be in French or Arabic, and many streets do not have any names at all. Try to remember directions using landmarks instead.
- Moroccans DO NOT like being photographed. If you do want to do some street photography, make sure it includes people in general as a part of a crowd and not specific individuals. Do not especially take photos of women without asking them first.
- The lower and middle range hotels may not match up to the Western standards in some areas, such as hot water not being available 24×7, no room service, not enough towels, no hairdryers….Now I didn’t encounter a hotel that lacked ALL of these features but let’s just say that as long as you expect a basic level of amenities and come prepared, you should be happy.
- Whilst I didn’t get a chance to do it: try their hammams.Apparently, you get naked and two women scrub you squeaky clean, so much so that one person could see dead skin getting removed from their body in the form of coils.
It sounds quite rough but I’ve always heard it being a very exhilarating experience. These hammams range from very basic ones where the locals go to very expensive ones, with various spa treatments included.
- Tipping is an integral part of Morocco. Any service you get- please remember to tip. Generall 10-20% of the total bill in a restaurant will be considered a proper tip. If you are unsure as to how much to tip, you can always take advice from your hotel staff or your tour guide. One word of advice: if you forget to tip, Moroccans will not create a fuss, but they will feel belittled if you tip really less.