Money: currency and barter
Moroccan currency is the dirham, but euros are also widely used. 1 euro equates to around 10 dirhams and you can pay in euros in many restaurants and markets but should expect the change in dirhams. In smaller shops and cafes, you should use dirhams. I would advise bringing euros on your trip and getting them changed in local hotels or exchange shops, it isn’t possible to change euros to dirhams outside of the country.
It is normal to haggle in Morocco. For example, in a jewelry shop in Chefchauen I was told the price of a necklace was 20 euros (200 dirhams) but I purchased it for 5 euros. You should assume that the original price asked for is above what will be expected. Be friendly, smile, and suggest a lower price. The vendor will then come down a little on his first request but you are expected to also raise your offer in small increments until you settle on an agreed price. Remember: they will ask for more than they want and you should suggest paying less than you are prepared to in order to reach a mutually appropriate price.
Things are generally cheaper in Morocco than in mainland Europe, except for alcohol which is expensive because Morocco is a Muslim country so there is little demand for it.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
Very few people in Morocco drink alcohol because it is a Muslim country but smoking hash is seen as normal and common. You will probably be approached in the street and asked if you want some smoke. It is not illegal to smoke weed, but it is illegal to distribute and sell it.
I had heard before I went on my trip that women shouldn’t drink or smoke in public because it can be interpreted as being eager for sex but actually I felt comfortable having a glass of wine with my meal and a couple of my female friends smoked without a problem. Play it by ear, don’t go and get smashed and try and read the situation you are in before deciding if you’d like to drink.
Morocco is a melting pot of different languages. Many Moroccan people who were unable to go to school can speak 4 or 5 languages because of the mix of different cultures, colonial past and importance of tourism in the economy. Arabic, French, Spanish and English are widely spoken. I speak Spanish and English and had almost no problem communicating, though at some points a bit of gesturing and frantic smiling was a useful aid.
Violence and the Government
Incidence of violence are very low in Morocco due to harsh punishments for wielding weapons. If you are found with a gun you could spend 20 years in prison or even get executed, and if you are caught with a knife you could look at 6 months in jail.
Police presence is high and Morocco is generally a very stable country.
Morocco is a Muslim country and the religion is highly integrated into laws and policy. The government doesn’t provide welfare for the unemployed so you will often see people selling vegetables on the street to try and get by, though in Moroccan culture (and Islamic teachings) taking care of one another is a high priority and people are generous and help each other as best as they can.
Life for women
I had expected women to have a difficult life when I came to Morocco, mostly because it is a Muslim country. I don’t like having these stereotypes in my head but being honest, I was expecting to feel very aware of my femininity.
According to the locals, the current king has done a lot for gender equality. Previously the queen had been hidden away from public sight but the current queen is adored by the people and involved in politics.
Women are able to drive, work in government and are no longer required to wear religious dress. Most women wore a headscarf but not all. I dressed in jeans and a long sleeved tee-shirt but I didn’t wear a headscarf and found no problems with this.
Gender roles are more pronounced than in Europe, but the government has progressive and liberal laws especially in comparison with other northern African countries. Abortion in Morocco is illegal, unless the health of the mother is in danger, but recently the king ordered a revision of the law.
A couple of men cat called me and walked beside me in the street way past their welcome and I could sense a difference in the attitudes of some men towards me than would be normal in England, but no more so than I experience living in Madrid.
There seems to be the misconception amongst westerners that men in morocco can buy women with camels. I don’t know where this rhetoric came from, but I over heard a tourist asking a guide how many camels she’d be ‘worth’. He looked at her with the incredulity I feel such a tactless and misguided question deserves. Can I clarify. Camels are an important part of Moroccan culture and are often included in the dowry – a gift brought to the wife on marriage. You do not simply buy women with camels, don’t be stupid.
According to my guide Youssef, tattoos are considered evil in Morocco culture due to allusions prohibiting them in the Koran. I have a tattoo and I covered it, but my friend Katie has visible tattoos and it wasn’t a big deal. Berbers living in the high Atlas Mountains have used tattoos as a part of their expression of faith for thousands of years.
Morocco has the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million, who have many of their own customs such as dress, language and lifestyle. They live a more nomadic, tribal life and are considered separate to the majority ethnic groups in Morocco.
Dogs are considered unclean. Moroccan people believe they need to wash every time a dog’s lips brush against their skin or clothes, and would also need to clean bedding if the dog’s mouth had contact with it. Therefore they are unpractical pets but lots of people have pet cats. According to the locals, cats aren’t considered impure because they breath through the skin more than dogs do.
Tour vs Independent?
I went on this trip with the company CityLife Madrid and I really recommend them. I felt unsure about going by myself, but having had a first glance at the country with the guides provided by Citylife I now feel comfortable to return with a better understanding of the culture.
The staff were helpful and kind, and went above the call of duty by helping me wrestle out of my jeans when they got stuck to my legs. Yes, we ate a lot, but the issue was that I splashed around in the cold sea with all my clothes on and a vacuum formed between my legs and the material. Hope I make you proud Mum.
Tours are a really good way to explore if you have limited time available because the companies have honed the itinerary to make sure you get as much packed into a short space of time, and it’s a way to meet a lot more people with similar interests. Travelling with large groups can give you a sense of safety and group deals can help you travel cheaply.
On the other hand it can interfere with the authenticity of your experience as moving in one large group means blending in and connecting with local people is more difficult. Plus, if like me you value your personal space, travelling with so many people can overwhelm you sometimes.
For me, it was perfect to make my first visit with a tour group as I felt safe and comfortable and made the most out of the time that I had there. I can now move forward independently when I return in the future.
Hope you’ve found this helpful if you feel I’ve missed anything out drop me a message!