Culture Shock: Morocco

From SU Madrid student Caitlin Dewey’s blog.

Photo credit: Caitlin Dewey

I’m afraid I couldn’t contain this Culture Shock! to just one aspect of my Morocco trip — if you’ve ever been anywhere within a 50-mile radius of North Africa, you’ll understand there are FAR too many contenders for that singular award.

Let’s try a top five, shall we? And y’all can let me know if I’m forgetting anything.

1. Everybody is so damn … nice.

No offense to Spaniards, who still molan mucho, but I’ve never felt so welcomedanywhere as I did in Morocco. For the first two nights I stayed with a Moroccan woman named Aoufiya, who insisted we eat mountains of couscous, take afternoon naps (… in her bed) and gave us her address at the end of the stay — with strict instructions that we were to call her and stay with her if we ever came back to Rabat. Outside of the homestay, old ladies and little kids stopped us on the street to say hello, welcome or whatever other English words they knew.
2. It would take years to learn these table manners.

… unless, of course, you already possess the singular gift of eating couscous with your bare hands. Moroccans traditionally eat out of a communal bowl and without utensils, even when the food is really tricky — say couscous or shredded rghaif. If this wasn’t difficult enough, it’s also considered unclean to use your left hand. Righties of the world may shrug that off, but I was in a state of near-panic when I saw the “no left hand” commandment in our guidebook.

3. Likewise, it might take months to figure out the bathrooms.

I totally lucked out with my homestay: not only was Aoufiyah awesome, but I also scored a standard, indoor flush toilet AND a shower. I’m not really into blogging about toilets, so we’ll gloss over that one, but suffice it to say that your Western loo is not exactly the norm. As for showers, there’s no tub, so the water/soap/shampoo just goes all over the bathroom floor. But that’s what Squeegees were invented for, right?

4. You won’t need to pack your shorts.

I obviously knew ahead of time that Morocco was a Muslim country, so standards of dress and behavior are a little different than in the U.S. or Spain. Despite this knowledge, however — and the ultimatums of the program guidebook — I did pack a pair of shorts and two mini-dresses (… come on, it’s hot!). As it turned out, Morocco is relatively liberal and there were plenty of girls rocking skinny jeans and skin-tight tops. But even when the mercury cracked 75, I saw nary a pair of shorts or mini-dress in sight. Good thing I brought jeans and T-shirts …

5. Driving is less a skill than an instinct.

I had the pleasure/terror of sitting in the front seat of the van for the entire trip, where I was subjected to a wide variety of frightening near-encounters with dogs, goats, small children, passing cars, buses, aggressive old women and rather steep cliffs. Drivers are NUTS in Morocco, especially in the cities. I spent a long time trying to figure out the rules for passing, crossing intersections and changing lanes before deciding that there weren’t any. Clearly, the task requires cojones — and most likely, a lot of luck.

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