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Morocco:   March 2010

 

When To Go

The middle of the winter and the summer are generally difficult times to be in Morocco, with the spring and fall being the better gambles. Our March visit was probably too early in the spring for most years, but we lucked out. We arrived at the tail end of 2 months of heavy rainfall which caused still-visible flooding in some areas. We had a couple of unpleasant cold wet days when in the north that were made more unpleasant by unheated hotel rooms. But it had been a light snow year, making our too-early visit to Imlil in the mountains, that coincided with a temporary spike in the temperature, an exceptional hiking experience. Were I to go again in the spring, I'd probably wait until April as our experience fit the popular expression about Morocco "It's a cold country with a hot sun". That being said, the strawberries were cheap and mighty fine by mid-March.

 

Our Itinerary:  Imperial Cities + 2 Hiking Venues

Ceuta, Spain: entry point & 2 nights, arriving from Algeciras, Spain by ferry (about 75 minutes)

Tetouan: 1 night; medina visit

Chefchaouen 2 nights; medina & 1 full day spent hiking up the mountain

Fez or Fes: 2 nights; medina, especially the tanneries

Mekns: 2 nights; medina

Moulay Idriss: 2 nights; 1 full day at Volubilis Roman site

Marrakech: 3 nights (2 would have been sufficient); medina

Imlil: 3 nights; 2 full days hiking around the highest mountain in N. Africa: Jebel Toubkal

Marrakech: 1 night; transition after hiking from Imlil

Rabat: 10 nights in an apt to wait-out the Easter holiday in Spain/Portugal/Italy
    with a day trip to Casablanca from Rabat

Tangier: 2 nights; medina & museums

 


Fine examples of Islamic art at this Mekns shrine.

Interestingly, the cities we visited in the first half of our trip on a roughly north to south line from Tetouan through Moulay Idriss all had a similar quality to them though they ranged from about 20,000 to 1 million people. These cities all felt 'more Moroccan' to us than those in the second half of our trip, which we visited from south to north from Marrakech to Tangier. These later 4 cities (excluding tiny Imlil) of 1 million or more were decidedly less conservative than the first group and had a much more western flair. I would recommend including cities from both groups in your visit to get a broader range of experiences.

In hindsight, 2 night stays in each city were just right as no destination had all that much to see. Our primary rhythm worked out well where we traveled 1-4 hours in the morning; explored the new venue that afternoon; and then did a big sightseeing effort the next day (usually in the medina). I scheduled 3 nights in Marrakech because it was a 7 hour travel day to get there from the Fez area, but a 2 night stay would have been sufficient there too even with the long travel day.

Nearly everywhere, the medina's were the usual highlight and a full day is enough for seeing them. Serious shoppers might need more time but we only looked. We also budgeted extra time for hiking.

 

Missed Opportunities

Melilla, northeast coast, renowned for the 'modernista' architecture. Regrettably, we missed it because its too remote. The route that would have made the most sense for our itinerary would have required a difficult 7 hour bus ride on a windy road through a notoriously lawless region (huge marijuana production area).

Dads Gorge, east of Marrakech, was another destination I pondered and rejected because it was too remote. It also was basically and "out and back" that seemed like might require more time and energy than the rewards justified. Having a car would take the 'iffiness' out of the transportation connections and allow one to stop at will to make half day hikes into the scenic points.

Camel trip in the desert, we didn't consider this a priority but a young US couple we spoke with made it the focal point of their visit to Morocco and were very pleased with their experience.

Having a car while in Morocco would create the opportunity to explore coastlines and interior gorges that weren't readily accessible to us using bus and train transport. Driving in the cities would however be tough because of unfamiliar (OK, bizarre) right-of-way conventions.

 

The Cost

We spent about US$100/day for 2 of us during our 16 day tour of Morocco. That excludes the time we spent in Rabat in an apartment and the $35 we spent to have internet connection for a month. For that price, we had private bathrooms in our rooms but were rarely comfortable with our lodging. We generally spent US$45-70/night for 2 on lodging and often would had to have spent $150 or more for the next comfort bracket or in some cases, have been inconveniently situated.

With the exception of 3 guesthouse dinners in Imlil, which ran US$10/person, we prepared our own vegetarian-leaning meals with food bought at the markets. Our lunch favorites of cheese and tuna were relatively expensive. We brought about US$90 of food with us (chocolate bars, energy bars, pesto sauce, cheese, and bulgur) which is included in the daily price but allowed us to eat better for less than if we'd purchased similar food in Morocco.

For short hops on the train we bought second class tickets; for trips of over an hour we bought first class seats. In the grand taxis we always shared the taxi though a couple of times bought a 3rd seat for comfort.

We didn't buy souvenirs, didn't pay much in tips, and were willing to walk long distances rather than take a cab if we didn't have our suitcases in tow.  

 

Special Things to Bring

A head scarf is a respectful accessory for a woman visiting Morocco to have handy. A lightweight, wide, washable scarf that will cover your head and neck is a good choice. I prefer a non-slick polyester over silk so as not to damage the fabric with my sunscreen and the street grime. I also found the scarf handy when letting my wet hair dry in a cold, unheated room. The scarf tossed lightly around my wet head after a shower kept the chill off without preventing my short hair from drying.

My thumbnail sized compass that I bought years ago when we struggled to find our way when exiting Barcelona's metro systems was just the ticket in Morocco's medina's. They are indeed a maze and maps were next to useless for anything other than the big picture. Being able to guess from the map as to which general direction we needed to head and then identifying the direction with the little compass spared us a lot of unnecessary circling around in the labyrinths.

A small padlock for your luggage is often a requirement should you leave your bags at a 'left luggage' area for part of a day. Locks won't keep people out of a suitcase with a zipper, but nonetheless they are a requirement, at least at some places, to use the service. We generally locked our bags when we left them in our hotel room for the day.

 

Language

Arabic is the first language in the cities, with tribal languages, especially Berber, being the language of choice elsewhere. However, French will get you far, even if you only know a little. At a minimum, learn to say "What is the price" and the numbers so you'll recognize the answer. We always asked the price before getting in a petit taxi. It didn't guarantee that we got the going rate but it did put a lid on the price. The about 50% literacy rate means that you can't rely on writing names or numbers down on paper to communicate.

 

Lodging

Value

Lodging was a real challenge in the "budget" bracket in Morocco, which these days is staying under US$100/night for 2. Accommodation choices in a town often clustered around the $20, $50-$70, or $150-$200 point. Our mid-range of $50-70 often meant no heat in a 55 damp room, maybe only cold water at the sink, perhaps no outside window, and potentially a lot of restaurant/bar noise after our bedtime. Sleeping with hats, socks, eye covers, and ear plugs quickly became an annoying routine. According to our Lonely Planet guide book, the $20 bracket tended to be dormitories or private rooms with shared bathrooms that might not have hot water at all or be clean. The higher bracket didn't always sound like it bought a guarantee of comfort for the considerably more money.

We jumped at the chance, online-finding of an Ibis Hotel in Fez as we knew its rigid chain hotel format would deliver what we'd been missing: heat, abundant hot water, enough light to comfortably read at night, fresh air, and quiet. The room was priced in Euro's and was about $60 when the exchange rate was about 1 = $1.36. It felt like a steal in Morocco and gave us a much needed holiday from the regional standards in lodging. We would have stayed at Ibis Hotels in Marrakech and Mekns had we known they were available. Unfortunately Lonely Planet guidebooks meticulously steer travelers away from 'boring' chain hotels. That editorial policy seemed downright criminal in Morocco when the lodging quality tended to be poor and the prices tended to high.

We didn't stay anywhere in Morocco that I'd look forward to staying again, with the exception of the Ibis Hotel in Fez and Dar Adar in Imlil. The Dar Adar guesthouse in Imlil is hardly the lap of luxury: unreliable hot water for showers and no heat, but a good value for the mountain village. I would request our same room again "Afala" as it is 1 of 2 double en suite rooms with a "chimney", which means a tiny fireplace that is lit for you after dinner. Our "Afala" room had the additional advantage of being the only room with 3 exterior walls exposed to daylight, which meant that our room warmed a bit in the March sun each day resulting in a late afternoon interior temperature of about 68, which was lovely under the circumstances. This room also opens on to a pleasant terrace that we often had to ourselves.

Advance Bookings

Surprisingly, I ultimately did most of our room reservations online through sites like expedia.com and booking.com. That was much more successful than emailing the host's directly as they often didn't respond. French and Arabic were the default languages, with Spanish also being used in the north. But Bill's French pronunciation wasn't readily understood on the street in Morocco, so we never made telephone reservations ourselves. I did ask one hotelier to call for reservations a few days ahead as the large hotel wasn't connected with an online booking service and never replied to my several emails that were formatted to be straightforward for an English, French or Spanish speaker. Morocco also had recently changed its equivalent of city codes or area codes, so most phone numbers published in guide books or even on websites were incorrect.

Riads


Stunning riad inner courtyards were often were dark & stuffy.

Riads are the fashionable places to stay in Morocco and they didn't suit me at all. Nice to look at, but not where I can rest. Riads were the homes of the court members and the wealthy that were positioned near the palaces in the imperial cities. It seems that they were built on the same model as the larger traditional homes but with much finer craftsmanship.

The basic layout was a 3-4 storey building in the medina organized around a central courtyard. The courtyards we saw were quite small, so the central open place was the size of a small room. All of the rooms opened onto a corridor and the central open shaft. As originally conceived, the central shaft was open to the air, letting the weather in. Understandably, these have all been capped off, leaving the interior rooms with no ventilation at all. Since the building is in the honeycomb medina, it was rare to have an exterior window in any of the rooms.

The riads and traditional homes created a safe, cozy space unless you are like me and want to stick your head out a window for some fresh air or to know whether it is day or night. The interior windows and doors that opened onto the central courtyard were loosely fitted so if as is the trend, the riad has a restaurant on the ground floor, all of the noise and cigarette smoke waifs into to the upper rooms. There is little soundproofing in the entire space, so though one is boxed-in in a generally stuffy, poorly lit space, you have no auditory privacy. Needless to say, this design is also a firetrap. As Bill pointed out, the central courtyard that is often decorated and trimmed with wood would act like a flue in case of a fire and there often was only 1 exterior door which opened on to a maze of pedestrian-only alleys.

Unpredictability

Booking lodging sight-unseen is always a nervous gamble for us and procuring accommodations in Morocco did nothing to our calm our nerves around the issue. Almost every booking had an at least mildly agitating surprise that reminded us of just how many things could go wrong. Our first night in Morocco was at a medina riad with only 5 rooms and our booking hadn't made it on to their schedule. Fortunately, the hostess was able to find the emails in which she and I had corresponded and she still had a room available. It made me appreciate that on this day like most others in Morocco, we'd arrived early so there was still time to scramble, even to another town, if necessary to find lodging.

Our Chefchaouen hotel was more meager than expected and who would have thought that when they mentioned hot water as one of the room features on their website that that would not include the sink. Not a huge issue, but in a damp room that never warmed over 55, warm tap water would have been especially welcome. Their attempt at economy failed as I resorted to a second shower to wash my face in the morning rather than add to my chill by splashing around in icy water.

The description of the guesthouse at Moulay Idriss had me concerned that it would be a dark, windowless room, like in a riad. The reassurances from the New Zealand owner and the bright website picture of what turned out to be our room convinced me to make the booking anyway. Alas, it was a good flash and not natural light that flooded the room in the picture. Three single light bulbs each contained in a metal shade with punched holes mounted at waist height did little to help us locate a black sock or other item when it dropped to the floor. The staff kindly honored our request to move the butane parlor heater into our room as we were the only guests. At least we could warm ourselves a bit in the cold, dark room.

In Mekns we had a drab but 'real' hotel, a hotel with hot water at the sink and shower; heat; an exterior window; a fire escape; and other ordinary things the overseas traveler doesn't always have. Unfortunately, one can never ask enough questions and though we had hot water, there was no water at all from 10 pm until 7 am because of a public works project. I was a bit nervous as to how closely they'd stick to the schedule and what shade of brown the restored water would be each day but it was the unscheduled lack of water midday that was the only problem for us.

I wasn't surprised when the 5% deposit from our online booking at the little mountain guesthouse at Imlil wasn't deducted from our bill. As expected, it was their compartmentalization of the booking process from the guest-interaction process that likely caused the error. Payment was handled from the kitchen staff whereas twice a day the owner opened up the tiny office with his computer to handle the bookings. I didn't bother with the detail as our out-the-door-price was less than it could have been given the inconsistencies between the booking website and the guesthouse website and the currency conversion issues.

I'd bought-up about $8 per night for a "luxury" room in Marrakech, not knowing what I was buying. I emailed the hotel asking what I was paying for and got no response but I knew that sometimes in the budget class hotels that a little more money bought a lot. In hindsight, we got absolutely nothing for the premium as the clerk deflected each of my reminders that we'd paid for a luxury, not a standard room, for our 2 different stays at the hotel. It was only as we left the hotel for the last time that I got a peek of what we'd paid for, which was a room with about twice the floor space and an actual seating area, which would have made the difference between feeling like sardines in a can and enjoying the space.

Renting an Apartment

We rented a tourist apartment in Rabat for 50/day (US$67) to sit out the 10 day Easter holiday going on in Spain. It was an aggravating process to rent online as many of the property owners never responded and I limited our search to owners that were willing to transact in English. None of the offerings in our price range looked great and indeed our chosen place wasn't all that pleasing.

The pictures made it look spare, though once there it was furnished just well enough. The features were overstated however as the balcony was tiny, the washer had no hot water to it, the internet wasn't useable, there was no portable heater, and the satellite TV had 1 English station and the reception was only good enough for viewing part of each day. The owner never could get the butane gas tank to stop leaking, so we were constantly navigating around gas fumes. He didn't actually speak any English, so though we were able to rent by email (probably with help from a friend of his), things didn't go well face to face.

The biggest disappointment was that the place was grimy. We immediately laundered the linens as they didn't feel clean. I bought window cleaner and paper towels the first day to scrub the sludge off the windows and glass table tops while Bill rewashed dishes in the kitchen. The upholstered furniture had thick layers of dust. Even after sweeping and mopping as I could, I had to use decongestants every night to sleep as the molds and dust kicked-up my allergies when in the apartment. We'd had much, much better accommodations for the price when renting furnished tourist apartments in Italy and Austria.

 

Transportation

General

Getting around in Morocco is relatively cheap and easy, though decidedly unglamorous and rarely comfortable. Like always when traveling, it's best to know in advance the approximate price of a product or service and have close to the correct change--it speeds up the transaction and reduces the chance of getting ripped-off. Tips don't seem to be expected. Put your luggage in the trunk of taxis yourself.

We were assigned reserved seats on 1 bus and when riding in the first class car of 2 trains but only 1 of the 3 times did we ride in our assigned seats. Moroccan seating convention was an odd mix of playing by the rules and a free-for-all. The conductor on 1 train was very happy to point out that we were in the wrong seats and took Bill to our assigned seats but did nothing to extract the people seated in them. We had sensed their intractability earlier, took available seats, and others deferred to us when they saw us in their seats. The domino effect was aided by the train not being full. This situation had been in part created because when we boarded our car was locked, forcing 2 cars of first class passengers to duke it out in a single car. At some point in the 6+ hour journey our car was opened but no one challenged us for their assigned seats.

It had been a similar situation on the bus out of Chefchaouen. People were in our seats when we boarded and we took the seats of others. A few riders were meticulous in taking their assigned seats, which happened to be open.

Trains

For short hops on the train, 2nd class is fine. However for the half and all-day journeys, we bought-up for first class and were glad we did. The 7+ hour journey from Mekns to Marrakech was about $33/person for first class. A half hour journey on 2nd class was under $3/person. The premium buys you 6 people to a compartment instead of eight and fabric upholstery instead of vinyl. The first class car had a sit-toilet with paper; the 2nd class car had a squat toilet. Seating in first class also improved the odds of chatting with English-speaking Moroccans.


Unlike any bus lunch stop I've seen in the US.

Buses

We took our guide book's recommendation and favored the slightly more expensive private CTM line over the others when we could. Like the 1st class train seats, it was better quality to begin with than the cheaper options, but the equipment was pretty tired by the time we were riding in them.  

Grand Taxis

Grand taxis are the backbone to Morocco's transportation system. They often cover the same routes as buses but go when they are full instead of on a schedule. We used grand taxis for 30-60+ minute connections and they often ran $1-4/person (considerably more to Imlil).

They pack 'em  in however: 4 in the backseat, 2 in the front seat of a Mercedes Benz sedan. Several times we used the accepted convention of buying a 3rd seat so we were only 3 people instead of 4 in the backseat and got underway sooner. We never waited more than 10 minutes for a grand taxi to fill. A woman traveling alone can buy 2 seats and insist on having the front passenger seat to herself. One's grand taxi experience will be best if you stick to the well-traveled routes as in the more remote areas it can take the better part of a day to fill a taxi.

The grand taxi drivers never inflated the fares. The price we paid was the same as listed in our guide book and when we saw money changing hands, it was the same fare that the Moroccans were paying. And talk to who ever approaches you at the grand taxi stands as there are sometimes several layers of management: 1 guy matches up the passengers with the drivers, someone else takes the money, and then there is the driver. They take great care to make sure they understand where you are going and though they are eager for you to pay to have the entire taxi to yourself, they will back down and sell you a seat in a shared taxi.

Petit Taxis

Petit taxis ply the Moroccan city streets and are quite a bit more expensive per mile than the grand taxis but still should be cheap. Most 'around town' trips of a few miles in petit taxis should be in the 10 or 15 dirham range or up to $2 for 2 people. But many of the drivers were extremely aggressive in their pricing. In Marrakech the drivers were demanding fares from tourists that were 5-10 times the going rate.

There are 2 price-controlling approaches to use with taxi drivers, though ultimately you are at their mercy. Start by checking your guide book or perhaps asking at your hotel as to what the fare should be to your destination. If we had our luggage with us, we always asked the driver for the price before getting in. If the prices from a couple of drivers were sky high, then we walked away from hotel or tourist area towards a main street hoping to find a less predatory driver. Sometimes we gave-up and settled for paying double the going price. We were nursing along cheap suitcases, so we often took petit taxis rather than stress our suitcases by walking a couple of miles with them.

If we weren't stowing luggage in the back of the taxi, we'd get in the cab and indicate to the driver that we wanted him to use the "compteur" or meter. If he refused, we'd get out. If your French is up to it, you can try arguing at this point, which is quite acceptable. You can still get nailed by the driver cheating and putting the meter on the night rate, but it is only 50% higher than the day rate.

Donkey

We never rode the donkeys though one did haul our suitcases up a trail to our mountain guest house.

On Foot

Being an overseas pedestrian is always full of surprises and Morocco had a few new challenges for us. In Marrakech and Rabat a special problem was created with the welcome appearance of pedestrian "Walk" signals as they often only stopped the traffic going in one direction but not the other. Pedestrians were on their own to cross 2-4 lanes of fast traffic and make it to the peace of the lanes of stopped traffic.  The other head-scratcher for us was the placement of a given street's sign perpendicular to the street at intersections instead of parallel. To us the sign was naming the street we were crossing, not the street we'd been on. 

Cyclotouring

We didn't cyclotour in Morocco but saw several men who were and spoke with a young German man who had biked through Morocco on a 6 month journey south from Germany. We also heard that touring in the High Atlas mountains was popular with foreign cyclists. The availability of food, water, and lodging would be a challenge and timing your journey to avoid the searing heat would be key. Speaking French would be a huge asset as would informing yourself about the big marijuana growing operations in the lawless areas of the Rif Mountains. Cyclotouring in Morocco seems like a bigger adventure than appeals to us but would probably be a better overall experience than Tunisia or Egypt. We only ever saw 1 woman on a bicycle in Morocco and she was in Rabat.

 

Water & Food

We generally drank the tap water while in Morocco. Our room was in the medina of Tetouan and our guide book commented that the infrastructure in that city was grossly mismanaged, so we did drink bottled water there.


Popular personal-sized tajine's (stews) curbside in Marrakech.

As always when we travel, we prepared most of our own food instead of eating in the restaurants. We'd planned on sampling some local cuisine for several dinners, but the hygiene standards were immediately a turn-off. We did eat breakfasts at our accommodations when included in the price, which were heavily weighted towards sugary items, and ate dinners at our mountain guesthouse in Imlil.

Fruit, especially oranges, was cheap and readily available. We had some great tasting though rough looking pears and pounds and pounds of strawberries that we washed until they were squeaky-clean.

As when in Tunisia, we blanched many of our fresh vegetables, like carrots, tomatoes, and cauliflower. The level of sanitation everywhere we looked was very low and we weren't convinced that washing was enough.

Happily, we completed our stay in Morocco without suffering any illnesses.

 

Tipping

Tipping is always a tough issue for us a travelers. We aren't often in situations which require tipping, so we always feel uncertain and ill-at-ease, but here's what we learned about tipping in Morocco.

Toilets: we saw several big-city public toilets where 1 dirham was posted as the price to use the toilet, so that is what we paid for any public toilet we used. Attendants where no price was posted often sneered at the lone dirham, but we stood our ground, as that sneering and disgust seems to be standard ploys in North Africa for extracting more money.

Restaurants: we didn't actually eat in situations where we needed to tip, but an American friend living in Casablanca said that leaving a 10% tip at an inexpensive, Western-styled cafe he patronized had bought him a lot of courtesy there. He was probably leaving about 10 dirham, or a little over $1. But a well-traveled Turkish man on the train commented that when treating Moroccan friends to a 1000 dirham or $120 dinner and he left a 50 dirham, or 5% tip, his Moroccans friend said that that was way too much, that only 20 dirham was warranted.

Hotels: We tipped the rare porter that we used 5 dirham, which seemed OK. Upon leaving a guesthouse where the host, who was not the owner, we tipped a 100 dirham on a 900 dirham bill for 2 nights. It was a blind guess. He had moved the parlor heater into our room (which required getting a new butane tank) and said we did not need to pay for it and he had chatted with us and answered questions for a half an hour on the day we arrived. There was a flyer in English indicating that he was available for guided tours of the village and nearby archeological site, so we did feel like 'the meter was running' when with him.

Museum staff: North African museum staff will often turn themselves into partial guides, which we believe is the signal that they are to be tipped. The couple of guys who did this to us in Morocco were actually helpful and not heavy-handed about it and we tipped them 10 dirham though wondered if 5 dirham would have been enough.

Free Museums: "donations accepted" were the case at a couple of museums in Tangier. The standard entrance fee for museums in Moroccan had been 10 dirham person person so we left 20 dirham at the standard-sized museum at 10 dirham at the 2-room operation.

 

Bribery

We've never engaged in bribery and hope never to do so, as we aren't even comfortable tipping.   But I pressed a Turkish man now living in Canada for details of his experiences when he told of driving in the Near East while we shared a train compartment with him in Morocco. He said that the equivalent of $5 to each border guard was usually sufficient when pressed for tips. His policy was not to offer bribes but to only pay on demand. Marlboro cigarettes and chocolate bars on the car seat spotted by the guards were also requested as payment, in addition to the cash, to proceed. He also found that most of the bottles of whisky he had in his car as gifts to friends on this particular trip were spent on bribes by the time he arrived at his destination.

When a border guard told him to empty his car for no particular reason, his companion slipped a $50 bill into his passport before giving it to the guard. The guard's response was that $50 wasn't enough, that it needed to be doubled as the money had to be shared with everyone in the office. The Turkish man indicated that after several days of driving from Egypt east, he had spent $500 in bribes to get through the series of border crossings. Amazing! 

 

Cultural Sensitivity Issues

We modified our behavior in several ways based on what we read in Lonely Planet and what we observed. I read that vests were viewed as underwear by some, so we didn't display ours as outer wear while in Morocco. Long sleeves which were kept down; long pants; and collars buttoned-up were respectful of the modesty requirements of the majority. We learned in Egypt and Tunisia not to remove jackets and sweaters in public. If we were too hot and needed to unlayer a bit, we'd duck around a corner and find a private place to discreetly shed some clothes.

Not eating in public, like picnicking, seems to be a point of etiquette that is in transition, so take your cue from the locals and not the tourists. We always have an outdoor picnic for lunch so that was a real hardship for us. But this has not been a 'lick on an ice cream cone or munch on some chips while you walk' crowd. Any eating in public outside a cafe should be done with discretion: minimize your bite size; keep your mouth closed as much as possible; and be as quick and tidy as you can. In train cars, it is polite to offer your meal to others before you dive in.

Shoes: if you approach a shrine or mosque or enter a guesthouse and see a rack for shoes or a row of slippers on a mat, know that you will be taking your shoes off. Do not, however, place your shoes on the available mat. Instead, step out of your shoes and leave them on a rack or in a row, step on to the mat, and slip on a pair of slippers.

We were careful not to bump or touch anyone though the prohibition against inadvertent touching wasn't nearly as strong as in Egypt and Moroccans who interacted with us were quick to offer a hand to shake. (Very devote Muslims consider non-Muslims as unclean and they must bath if contaminated by us.) Touching or patting your right hand to your heart after a handshake or greeting punctuates your sincerity--the left hand is reserved for toilet hygiene. Eye contact between strangers is considered sexually aggressive. Develop a sweeping motion with your eyes on the street and only make eye contact with any given person once and briefly, if at all. This is especially true between men and women.

Arm-in-arm promenading seemed to be about the limit of couples intimacy display on the street, though same-sex friends were free to sit in each other's lap and drape an arm around the other's neck.

 

The Touts

The social decorum on the street was noticeably different in Morocco from Tunisia and Egypt. The Moroccan touts were decidedly easier to ditch and we quickly discovered that respect for "family" seemingly could be used to our advantage. Couples walking arm in arm seemed acceptable and when a tout approached and I slipped my arm around Bill's, it seemed to add weight to the "leave us alone" verbal message. We used that tactic over and over with surprising success.

 

On Being Americans

We felt a decidedly cool reception to our nationality as Americans while in Morocco. Chatting with both young Moroccan professionals and an American living in Morocco confirmed that it is the Middle East policies of the US that make us unpopular. I can hardly blame them as I don't approve of our government's policies either.

If you hear "ooo-saw", know that they are talking about you. You know: oo-ss--ah, u-s-a, USA.

 

 

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