What it means to be an American “Taliba” in Morocco:
1. There are no trash cans anywhere
One of the first things I noticed when I landed in Morocco is the absence of garbage cans. It’s near impossible to find a place to toss your trash. I’m baffled as to where they put it all. In Rabat, every once in a while there would be a large cardboard box or established pile of trash in a street corner. When exploring different cities, I get excited if I stumble upon an actual trash can.
2. You can’t walk through the “souk” (market) without being told to buy something
After an irritating 7-hour car ride from Fes (a city known for its theft) to Ozoud (a small village known for its waterfall), I had just about had it with everything and everyone. As I walked through the souk in Ozoud, almost every single shop keeper pushed me to buy something. I lightly browsed through their inventory, and one shopkeeper after another came up to me, placing bracelets on my wrists and rings on my fingers, saying “good price, I make you good price.” This is something I’m used to, and maybe it’s because I was already in a bad mood, but Ozoud was the most pushy. The people were friendly, just overbearing.
3. French is the only language of Morocco that you might possibly know
Those years of Spanish that you took in high school? Pretty much useless here. Dareeja (aka Moroccan Arabic) and French are the main languages spoken in Morocco, sprinkled with some Berber dialects. If you’re lucky, people will know English; this is mostly true in the cities. But if you want to have a full conversation with someone, your best bet is French.
4. The locals really appreciate when you take the time to pick up some Dareeja
I was lucky enough that part of my study abroad program included several lessons in basic phrases and language of Moroccan Arabic. While it was difficult to cram this entirely new language into my exhausted and jet-lagged brain, it was worth it. Knowing, or at least trying to learn, some Dareeja made it easier to communicate with my host family, shopkeepers, and people I’ve met along the way. It has been very satisfying to be able to practice the language and see the locals’ appreciation for me understanding “shwiya Dareeja.”
5. You will start to babble
I don’t know if it’s the lack of sleep, sensory overload or an attempt to process a foreign language, but multiple times throughout the trip I’ve been talking straight jibberish. It’s like my brain won’t work. To illustrate, “subtractively” = “subjectively attractive.” Apparently you can make up words that everyone in the group still understands. When we spat out nonsense, our phrase became, “you know what I mean,” and we usually did.
6. 20 minutes in American time = 2 hours in Moroccan time
Time doesn’t exist in Morocco. Nobody cares if you’re late. Okay, I exaggerate… but only by a little! We’ve been 3 hours late to a tour, 1 hour late to lunch, and it never even matters. It’s difficult to take time restraints seriously because almost every event or meeting begins at least 20 minutes late anyway. There is literally no way in Moroccan Arabic to say 11:37. It’s either 11:35 or 11:40. Anything in between is irrelevant. As an over-planning person, this lack of promptness really bothered me originally, but I’ve gotten used to it. It will be difficult to transition back to American time!
7. Mint tea will become your new water
This is probably the most (in)famous item of Moroccan cuisine. Mint tea is served when guests arrive and with every meal. Water isn’t even offered at meals, unless you’re having ice-cream or some kind of dessert. They even have a secret recipe of herbs for the tea. You’ll have to ask if you want to know. 😉
8. And you better like orange juice
Another staple beverage in the Moroccan diet. Always fresh-squeezed, this delicacy is everywhere. It’s the best with breakfast (duh), but it tastes even better here because breakfast is usually just a bunch of “hobs,” or bread. I’ve had fresh OJ before, but there’s nothing as sweet as the orange juice from Morocco.
9. (Ladies) It doesn’t matter how conservatively you dress—you will get attention for blonde hair and blue eyes
Our group is all women, and I’d say everyone has been dressing with cultural sensitivity in mind. This is a Muslim country, so looser, more modest clothing is advised. No matter what though, even if you think you’re dressing to blend in, you’ll still look like a foreigner, and get the extra attention that comes with it. Of course it happens back in the States too, but getting cat-called feels even more violating when you’re in a foreign place. They’ll say “you are beautiful” and “nice poobs” (interpret that as you wish). It’s best to ignore the comments and walk away.
10. (Ladies) By the end of your trip, you will have multiple marriage proposals to choose from
Moroccans are very straight forward about their love interests. When hitting on women, they will point-blank ask for your hand in marriage. A friend of mine brought up a good point—what would they do if you actually said yes? As of right now, I have two fiancées. (Except not, because I would never.)