Before we arrived in Morocco, we were told that Moroccans are hospitable and truly value community. We thought we understood what that meant—but it turns out, we had no idea. Every single facet of Moroccan culture and society is rooted in the importance of each other. We’ve written before about how Moroccans will go the extra mile for you, how they might even give you the shirt off their back if you simply complimented it. Every day here, we are in awe of how Moroccan culture embodies human-to-human connections. These are five “community codes” that demonstrate how pervasive these values are:
1. Sharing the Load
If two American friends are walking together and one of them has a heavy tote bag, who carries it? Well, that’s easy—whoever owns it! But in Morocco, the friends will carry the bag together. Each friend will keep the bag in between them with one hand. It’s a common sight: bags, backpacks, buckets, whatever! Two people plus one item always equals a fair share of the load. It’s especially cute to see two old men in jellabas carrying groceries together!
2. One Water Cup
Germophobic Americans might shudder at this, but at most Moroccan meals, there’s only one water cup for the whole table. Before we got to Morocco, we already knew that Moroccans eat meals from a communal dish. Everyone digs into one huge plate in the middle of the table. However, we didn’t learn about the one water cup practice till we were eating our first meal with our host family. It might seem like a small detail, but it’s another detail that shows how sharing-minded EVERYTHING in this country is. (Note: tea is an exception. Everyone gets their own tea glass!)
3. Greet Everyone in the Room
We’ve written about this cultural norm before.
In Morocco, when you enter a room, you must greet every single person in the room if it is possible. In America, no one expects you to greet strangers. You’d only greet strangers if you were introduced to them specifically. But enter a Moroccan room, and you must greet everyone properly and equally—whether they are your best friends or people you’ve never seen before. Everyone is a member of your “community.”
4. Just Show Up
One day, a few months into living here, our host mom chastised us for not visiting her more. “Sorry, mama!” we told her, “Just call us whenever you want us to come over, and we’ll be here!” We thought it was a polite, non-intrusive promise.
But Mama Ryqqia did not agree. “Shame on you!” she scolded us. “You don’t make an appointment to see your parents! You just come. Why would you make me call you to come? Just come whenever. Any time!”
“But in America, we do call our parents before we go visit them,” we told her.
“That is normal in America?” she asked, incredulous. “Okay, but this is not America. You are my children. I am your parent. In Morocco, children just go to their parents’ houses any time.”
Turns out, just showing up at someone’s house without scheduling a meeting is completely normal for anyone you’re close to. In America, you’d definitely risk that person not being home, not feeling like hosting, or not wanting you over. We’ve found it extremely difficult to just show up, despite our Moroccan loved ones’ constant insistence on it. We’ve never gotten as many invitations to “come whenever” as we have this past year, and it’s not just because we’re foreign and hyper-visible. It’s just the Moroccan way of life!
5. Everything is Offered
In our second month in Morocco, we went souk shopping with our Arabic teacher. We asked him how to buy water from a vendor, and he shook his head, saying “You don’t need to buy it. They will always give you water if you ask.”
When we went on a picnic with a friend, a random man came up to us and asked, “Can I have some food, please?” Our friend, without hesitation, ripped off half of her sandwich and handed it to him.
Once, we complimented our favorite shopowner, Tarik, on the homemade bread he sold us. The next time we went to pick up eggs and milk, he stuck a few loaves in the bag without us asking, completely free of charge.
Even though things like this happen constantly, we feel a little jolt of surprise every time we witness these generosities. The surprise makes us realize how materialistic we Americans are. We grow up immersed in the “mine” mindset.
Moroccans think nothing of giving and giving and giving. There is boundless generosity here. Although our American selfishness is still ingrained in us, it’s true that the longer we live here, the less attached we feel to our stuff.
Plus, one Moroccan taught us that we still have new realizations to make about our own culture as well…
1. An American Cultural Code: Opening the Door
Last week, the headmaster of our neighborhood’s technical high school was regaling Robert with tales of his experiences in the United States. “It was wonderful,” he said. “Americans are so nice.”
“What, really?! You think so?” Robert laughed, “I feel like Americans are so rude and self-centered compared to Moroccans. Moroccans share everything and spend so much quality time with each other. We don’t usually encounter so much hospitality and generosity in America.”
“Yes, these things are important to Moroccans,” he agreed. “But the thing is, most Moroccans have all the time in the world. We can take time to make tea and sit and talk forever. Americans never have time. They’re always busy, always in a rush. When I was there, even I felt busy and rushed! But the one thing that has stuck with me all these years, is that no matter how rushed Americans are, they would always hold the door open for people behind them!”
We suddenly realized that we had never really experienced Moroccans holding doors open for us. We never noticed because we were too busy noticing things like neighbors knocking on the door with platters of couscous. But the headmaster had seen American culture in the same way we were seeing Moroccan culture.
The headmaster went on, “In Morocco, we are rich in time, but not things. We can afford the time. But time is precious to Americans because Americans have so little time. Time is money, as you say. So when an American would take their time to pause and hold the door for me, I felt like it was so generous.”
Fatema Mernissi wrote, “Travel helps you figure out who you are and how your own culture controls you.” When we learned the headmaster’s perspective on culture and generosity, we realized how true this was.
We’re always learning—about other cultures, about our own. And we’re looking forward to which “never knew” we’ll add to “now we know” list next!
Robert & Julie