An Overview of Morocco: Traditions, Laws, Language, and Travel Advisory

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An Overview of Morocco: Traditions, Laws, Language, and Travel Advisory

Morocco. There are so many extreme and conflicting adjectives that I associate with the country. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Rich. Romantic. Draining. Delicate. Annoying. Astonishing. Empty. Excitement. It’s sort of hard to put into words how I feel about Morocco since my experiences were not good, but not bad. It’s not something I would repeat, but it’s not something I would erase. It truly is unique in all its bizzare happenings that it’s not a place I would ever recommend, but it’s not a place I would discourage you from visiting either.

Never have I been in a place where I’ve fought with locals. Regularly. Or held such distrust for any person, compliment, direction, historical piece of information. Yet it’s also not a place I’ve experienced so many differing and unique things all in one location. Morocco is like an abusive relationship. Where you get slapped then kissed. You don’t know what to feel. Or how to leave the relationship, without missing it all within the same breath.

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The following blog post is a summary of Morocco broken into subtopics. The final subsection is a portion on sexual harassment and violation for both men and women in Morocco and I recommend you read this travel advisory.

Language in Morocco

Moroccans are such talented linguists that they switch in and out of languages within one sentence and communicate perfectly. As a tourist, the people you’re going to mostly interact with will speak a minimum of 3-4 languages–if not 6 or 7. However, the dominant language depends on the region. French is universal and can be used everywhere. Northern Morocco speaks mostly Spanish, while southern Morocco is mostly Arabic, and into the desert is mostly Berber. However, the little Arabic I knew was pretty much useless as classical Arabic is not really used here, so Moroccan Arabic is preferable.

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Geography of Morocco

You can go through four seasons in one day. The landscape astounds me. One minute I’m in the Sahara desert, the next it’s snowing and people are sledding down mountains; but just drive one more hour and there are rolling hills of green, and then another hour you’re at the beach. It’s so bizarre and wonderful. Morocco is so rich in natural resources and diversity in every way possible. 

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Transportation in Morocco

The infrastructure of Morocco is great in that there are so many options for transportation. My favorite mode was renting a car just because I like to explore. But I recommend the ONCF train for long rides between cities, and the CTM bus if you’re on a budget. Read Coast of Morocco for my rental car experience, and Casablanca: Morocco’s Most Modern City for my bus and train experience. You can also hire a private driver, which was my least favorite experience. You can read about it in The Sahara Desert.

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Camel was actually my favorite mode of transportation 🙂

Accommodations in Morocco

The most commonly used accommodation in Morocco is a riad. Riads are family homes often owned by wealthy men who had multiple wives, and thereby provided housing for his multiple families when polygamy was still common. These buildings have six rooms or more with a large courtyard in the center, and are usually extremely ornate and centuries old. Most of them are listed on Booking.com, although I highly recommend checking on AirBnB where the same riad will be listed for cheaper. AirBnB only takes 1% commission whereas Booking.com takes 20%. Don’t listen to the ratings on any of those shits. None of them I found were accurate. I would just go by word of mouth.

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Riad Jamai in Fes.

Another option are the hotels, which are gorgeous. I think more elaborate than any of the palaces you’ll visit in Morocco. But the price tag matches its beauty. So unless you’re ballin’ out of control, this may not even be an option depending on budget.

I found staying at an expats house was the safest bet. A few riad managers I encountered tried to have sex with me or awkwardly trap me into a kiss. Things I didn’t have to worry about staying with a French woman. However, not all of the houses look like the pictures they post on AirBnB. I would still go by word of mouth.

It is important to note that homosexuality and sexual relations outside of marriage is a punishable offense, so just be aware of what you display in public. You can read more here. Neither of us experienced any ill-will by anyone despite not being married and maybe a little queer, but that was just OUR experience.

Eating in Morocco

Restaurants offer basically the same things: couscous, tagine, burgers, or pizza. Couscous is served on Fridays, the holy day (not my personal preference). Tagine tastes better when made in riad compared to restaurants. The camel burgers taste like rubber. Pizza is cooked in a fire oven so are usually pretty good. Oddly, the vegetables were always cooked and then served cold on salads.

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Looked so deceivingly delicious. Was actually awful.

I suggest avoiding restaurants when possible. After a month in Morocco, I don’t have one good restaurant recommendation. I would suggest always eat within riad. If you MUST eat out, no bullshit, the gas stations are lit. Moroccans don’t really eat in restaurants because it is expensive, so the food is catered to tourists with mild palettes. However, Moroccan men will frequent the cafes, which can always be found next or attached to a gas station. As a female, you might feel strange as all these men stare you down, BUT the omelettes and olives are worth it!! Since they cater to other Moroccans, the food is not only good but WAY CHEAPER than you would find in a restaurant.

Breakfast in your riads are not fantastic ever. They are mostly carbohydrate based and pretty tasteless. I’m not sure what those people who rave about riad breakfasts are eating in their regular lives to actually think they taste good. Perhaps they enjoy cardboard. It was a let down for me that I took personally. However, it should be included in the price of your room.

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NOT AN ORANGE.

Plenty of orange trees litter the streets of Morocco. Although tempting to just pick one off a tree, don’t do it. I did it. And they are not oranges. More like lemons.

Alcohol is not served in every establishment and is strictly prohibited on the street.

Religion in Morocco

Morocco is a majority Muslim country, although Moroccans pride themselves on being very open-minded about religion. It was something I was extremely impressed with as well. I had never seen such acceptance before. You can find a synagogue, a church, and a mosque all in one city.

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The mosques of all mosques in Casablanca.

The first religion in the country was that of the Berbers, which revolved around nature. The next religion was Jewish, then during the Arab conquest, Islam, and then during the Spanish Inquisition, Catholicism. When Israel was turned into a Jewish state, there was a mass migration of Jewish Moroccans and you’ll see lots of abandoned buildings where they used to live.

No need for an alarm clock in Morocco. The call to prayer will surely awaken you at dawn. Don’t need a clock either, cause you’ll hear it 5 times a day. Some holy days to look out for are:

  • Fridays are holy days for Moroccans and many places are shut down. Avoid this day to do museums.
  • During Ramadan, many stores are closed
  • Muhammad’s birthday, everything is closed (the time changes every year, so look this up)
  • Festival of Sacrifice or Eid Al-Adha where people go around and slaughter sheep. Could be kind of a cool thing to observe, but just know people will be with their families, not working.

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Dogs are considered dirty in the Muslim religion. If you touch one, you cannot go into mosque to pray. Because of this you won’t see many dogs on the streets, but you’ll see an enormous amount of cats running around as they are considered good luck.

Music in Morocco

The variety of music in Morocco was incredible. I heard a lot of Reggaeton, Lebanese dance music, Algerian rap, traditional Berber music, and Angola house music. This just goes to show how truly mixed the Moroccan people are due to colonization and geography.

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Desert Jams

Shopping and Shipping in Morocco

There’s so much information on this that I made a separate blog post. See How Not To Shop In Morocco Like A Basic Bitch for details. But the shopping truly is incredible. Be prepared to drop some coins.

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How do you choose just 1?

Dressing in Morocco

Women: Even though Morocco is a Muslim country and hijabs are worn, it is definitely not a requirement. So let your weave breathe. You can dress as conservatively or as modern as you want. I super duper enjoyed the ladies who wore tie-dye hijab head to toe. YASSS. Fashion! However, I was super confused by the prevalence of hooded, fleece bathrobes with Mickey Mouse or Hello Kitty on it with pajama pants underneath. (This was in December, I’m not sure what is common in the summertime.)

Men: The traditional garb for men looks like a long kaftan with a hood and is called djellaba. The hood is pointed. So it definitely looked eerie to my American eyes as suspiciously similar to the KKK hoods. But obviously, they are not KKK. Men can also dress as conservatively or as modern as they want. Turbans were seen all over the desert but not required. Although, I totally rocked the turban when I could.

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I loved the turbans!

Government of Morocco

The government is ruled by a monarchy, I believe the longest running in Morocco. This dynasty has been running since the 17th century and is believed to have started by descendants from Mohammed, the prophet.

From my understanding, the current king, King Mohammed VI, is well-liked by his people. You’ll see the King’s picture put up in every establishment in Morocco.

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He is a proponent for women’s rights. Previously, the queen was never allowed to be seen in public, even in royal photos. His wife is the first queen to be shown in pictures. In addition, he’s made it infinitely harder to practice polygamy in Morocco. A man must prove financial stability as well as get permission from his first wife in order to get a second wife. It’s now rarely practiced. He also has stabilized Morocco, pushed for growth and environment friendly energy renewal via high speed railways, the world’s largest solar plant, and positioning Morocco as the busiest port in the Mediterranean with a direct train line from Tangier to the south of Africa. The port of Tangier is also duty free to their alliances. I was pleasantly surprised at the steps Morocco has taken to promote environmentally friendly modes of transportation and energy.

However, the monarchy doesn’t benefit everyone. We did pass through rural towns where water was communal and not in every home. Some towns with gold as their natural resource have been taken by the king and surrounded by heavy security. The people are not allowed to work in the mines. Because townships survive off of their resources, manifestations occur because of the unemployment and widespread poverty. All the manifestations we came across were peaceful.

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In addition, the people do not have a real mode of expressing themselves to the King. There is no direct line to tell their thoughts and their struggles which often results in frustration and political protests. But for the most part, Morocco is stable and heavily relies on tourism as one of its main sources of income. A.k.a Morocco is a giant tourist trap.

The king before, Hassan II, had a controversial reign. When Hassan II came into power, it seemed like he acted sort of a like a dictator, rather than a constitutional monarchy. There were two assassination attempts by coups from internal government officials. He was gangster and survived both. His parents were first cousins.

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The father of Hassan II, Mohammed V, also had a controversial reign. He took the place of his brother who was strongly against cooperating with Europeans. The French threw him out and brought Mohammed V out of exile from Madagascar. This opened trade between Morocco, Europe, and The United States. He was strongly depicted as basically a Western sell-out, but then Holocaust happened and the people flipped and praised him for standing firmly against Jewish prosecution. He played a big role in protecting the large Moroccan Jewish population.

Traditions of Morocco

Aside from mint tea and religious customs, the one tradition you need to know about is HAMMAM. Hammam was traditionally used as a public bath and sauna where people would do ritual cleansing before entering a mosque (which is why a lot of them are near mosques), and are divided by gender. It is not traditional Roman bath where you are completely submerged in the water. Water is poured onto you.

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Me coming out of hammam like…

There are two choices of hammam: 1) public which is very local and very inexpensive or 2) private in a spa, not local, and a bit pricier. I was persuaded NOT to do local hammam because of sanitation, so I went to a spa. I honestly can’t speak on the sanitation of the public hammam because I’ve never been.

Ok wait, so let me tell you about the gloriousness of hammam.

First of all it is $15 to get your body scrubbed head to toe. You can definitely find cheaper. But me, being the diva I am, paid $45 for a full body massage, hammam, and manicure/pedicure. I’m going to tell you off jump, skip the fluff, just get the hammam.

So you enter this room and you’re allowed to declothe as much as you feel comfortable with. (I’m lowkey a nudist but also who the fuck takes a bath with their clothes on? So yes, I stripped.) Then you’re instructed to lie down on a mat on the floor. The floor is stone and heated. (It actually was too hot for me and I got burned, but it was worth it.) Then a woman walks in and pours the most perfect temperature of water on your naked body. She then puts on a black glove, only one hand like Michael Jackson, and begins to scrub you fervently with this sandpaper glove. She uses black eucalyptus soap until your body is sparkling clean and rubbed raw. And yes she washes your privates. It is definitely sensual and erotic and I was wondering why I ever bathed myself? Then she slathers you with algae for moisture and washes your hair with pure argan oil. I think I fell in love.

Bottom line: get the hammam. It’s a miraculous, wondrous, relaxing experience.

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Hammam had me like…

Travel Advisory: Sexual Harassment and Assault

This portion is just a warning of what happened to me, but also what millions of other travelers and what many Moroccan women experience on a daily basis. It is not to discourage you from traveling to Morocco, but just to give you a heads up. 

For some background: I traveled with a 6 ft tall Iranian man. I am perceived as a short East Asian woman. That’s what we look like, k. Not White. Ethnic AF. In addition, at times I wore a wedding ring to pretend like we were married. I did this because before leaving many Moroccan women warned me that it would be best to be accompanied by my “husband” to avoid street harassment. And to make sure my legs were covered.

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Oh hayyy pretend husband!

Let me tell you something, none of that shit works.

The majority of the time I wore my regular clothes with a kaftan over to keep covered and to “blend” as much as I could. Then when I got to my destination, I took it off and put it in my purse, cause hello, I wanted to slayyyy. You can imagine my confusion when despite wearing a shapeless long dress, men would turn their entire motorcycles around on crowded streets just to come up and touch me. Even saying to my partner, “Your wife is very beautiful” and then lay his hands on my hair or body. Not that it stopped either when my friend said, “If you think she’s my wife, why are you touching her?”

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Kaftan at all times.

When we came back to our riad, completely exhausted from fighting off street rats and men licking their lips staring at me like I was a piece of meat, and sometimes touching my legs, we met a couple on their honeymoon. She was from Somalia and he was from Spain. She was super fun and bubbly and we struck up conversation. Then she said, “I hate that I chose Morocco as my honeymoon destination. I wear hijab out in the street even though I’m not Muslim. What is wrong with these men? They’re crazy. My husband is tired of defending me. I am covered head to toe, I’m Black, and I speak Arabic and keep shouting at them SHAME, and they don’t care.”

The moral of that story is: it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, it does not save you from being touched. Many Moroccan women experience sexual harassment on a daily basis and you can read about it here.

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Street harassment did not amuse me.

But oh no, this didn’t just happen in one city or in one specific instance. Here’s a list of just a few times my partner and I encountered sexual harassment and assault:

  • Driving the coast of Morocco we were stopped by police at a random checkpoint. The police officer asked me to get out of the car so he could stare at my legs. Just for that. And then he let us go.
  • In the Saharan desert, I was taking a nap in my sleeping bag and my partner wandered off to go to the restroom. Within 5 minutes of being alone, a Berber man tried to crawl into my sleeping bag.
  • We went to a deserted beach and felt like we were finally alone. As soon as I took off my kaftan–with my bikini underneath–30 men, out of nowhere, came down from the cliffs and erupted into a game of “soccer” right next to my beach towel. So we had to leave.
  • On New Years Eve, I sat down at a table of six Spaniards to share a large meal of tagine. The owner of the restaurant sat next to me and asked if I wanted more bread. While he was shoving the plate in my face, he moved his hands in between my legs. I turned to my partner and said, “He’s touching me.” So we switched spots. Two minutes later my partner leans over and whispers, “He’s stroking my dick.” So yes, you can literally have a dick and they will still touch you.
  • Throughout my stay, if I posted a picture on Instagram, I got 100s of DMs from Moroccan men trying to find my location and hook up. (I always back-post for safety, so none of these things materialized.)
  • Here are even some text messages I received from people I had paid to protect me with blatant sexual harassment without solicitation:
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Needless to say, I did not recommend him on my blog.
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That voice message was him cussing me out for a minute because I gave him 3-stars on Trip Advisor. He harassed me all the way to America, calling me non-stop.

I am going to say this once: JUST BECAUSE YOUR LEGS ARE COVERED DOES NOT SAVE YOU FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT OR ASSAULT.

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I was not even safe within my own riad.

The bottom line is: sexual harassment and assault is a major problem in Morocco. If you did not get sexually harassed, it does not mean you did something right, it just means they didn’t want you. Be grateful for that.

It was so tiring that my partner and I turned it into a sort of joke where we would take bets on how long it would take for someone to touch me, because it happened every time, with every man with the exception of two. (My angels of Morocco, my riad managers in Fes. You can read about them here.)

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If you did get sexually harassed, it does not mean you did something wrong. No amount of clothes, lipstick, behavior should warrant sexual harassment. It bothers me when people (especially self-righteous women) give “advice” to “be respectful” and cover up. NO! I have some advice on how to be respectful. How about NOT FUCKING TOUCHING ME WITHOUT PERMISSION. So NO ONE should tell you what to do to prevent such attacks, because it is not possible to prevent a predator from being a predator. It is not your fault. It’s completely reasonable to assume that men have self-control and boundaries. A man’s default behavior should not be rape.

So that’s all I have to say about that.

Some solutions for sexual harassment and assault in Morocco

After going on the interwebs and talking with women, I found some similarities between women who did get sexually harassed and women who had no idea what the fuck I was talking about because they had a great time. I’ll share them here:

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  • Travel in large groups. The more people you have, the less penetrable it is for a predator to touch you.
  • Hiring a guide. Having a guide definitely cuts down the amount of street harassment. However, in my case, my guide was #1 sexual predator, so you trade 50 for 1. (And by the way, my guide had NINETY 5-star Trip Advisor reviews. Word of mouth does not always constitute protection. At the end, when I gave him a 3-star review, he offered to pay me $800 to remove it. Real talk. I didn’t remove it. But then I was contacted by Trip Advisor saying they removed it for writing about a tour guide, not the tour company. So just be aware.) This was just my case though, I know a lot of people who were really happy with their guides.
  • Walking with a Moroccan man. I mentioned by angel from Fes earlier, but Fes was so ratchet I wouldn’t go anywhere without Mohammed. He was not a guide, I just told him I needed him with me so he dropped all his duties to help me through the streets. After overhearing conversations of people plotting things against us, he wouldn’t let us go anywhere without him. Praise God for him. He manages Riad Jamai in Fes. You can book it here.
  • Walking with headphones. For some reason, if you noticeably had headphones, you were less likely to be approached.
  • Traveling during high season. We were told that during the winter months, people are more likely to be predatory because of the low amount of customers coming through shops, restaurants, and tours. The more people in the country, the more spread out the assault.

These things in no way guarantees your safety, but any precaution helps, right? This also does not guarantee you will get sexually assaulted. It DOES NOT happen to everyone.

All in all, Morocco is not a place I would recommend, but it’s not a place I would discourage anyone from visiting. It is rich in so many things and has the potential to be such a great destination. I am so grateful and privileged for this experience.

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