Visiting a country is not all about sightseeing, enjoying the nature and chilling in great hotels and spas. It is also about understanding more about the local culture and learning about it as much as possible. If you are lucky to visit Morocco, Morocco culture is really one interesting culture to discover.
Moroccan people are internationally known for being very friendly and obliging. They can do whatever it takes to help you find your route if you are lost, give you tips and information to make your trip unforgettable, or just chat and know more about you.
Morocco remains an open country that loves diversity. Being an Islamic country (the constitution clearly states that Islam is the official religion for Moroccans), it is important to understand the impact it has on Moroccan culture, tradition and local’s everyday life.
Morocco Cultural & Religion Facts
Ready to know more about Morocco culture? Here are practical information and guidelines to help you plan your trip wisely, know what to expect and learn more about how to be respectful to Moroccan local culture.
- Morocco religious celebrations
As I mentioned earlier, Morocco is an Islamic country with Islam having a great impact on locals lifestyle.
The Islamic calendar follows a lunar pattern which is different from the western calendar, and because of that, religious celebrations dates change every year. Consequently, if you are planning on visiting Morocco, it is important to check if your scheduled dates will meet some religious celebrations.
Another important thing to remember is that celebrations dates are based on a lunar calendar, so the exact date won’t be official until one or two days before the actual date. I will give you at the end of this section a summary of all the religious dates, but always use an interval of more or less 2 days when planning your trip.
While visiting Morocco during these celebrations can be very inspiring and can make you explore a deeper level of Moroccan culture, if it is your first trip to Morocco, I would recommend making your visit outside these religious celebrations to make sure the changes in locals’ rhythm doesn’t impact your trip.
Ramadan is a month-long religious celebration held each year in all Islamic countries, among which Morocco.
Ramadan is dedicated to fasting from sunrise to sunset and focusing on spiritual and religious matters. Food, drinks, tobacco, and sexual thoughts are prohibited during fasting, making a deep impact on everyday life.
In fact, before sunset, most restaurants and cafés will be closed during Ramadan and beaches will be mostly empty as they are associated with nudity. Besides, as fasting can be a little bit tiring, Moroccans will prefer staying at home, praying and resting.
Corporate schedules also adapt to Ramadan rhythm and change from a classic 8am-6pm with lunch-break to an 8am-3pm without interruption.
After the sunset, the streets will start reviving as Moroccans will head up to the mosque to pray Tarawihe, a daily Ramadan prayer which can last for hours.
As you can imagine, Ramadan imposes a different rhythm to Moroccans lifestyle, so you might not be able to try some restaurants, for example, however, sightseeing and shopping before sunset will still be possible.
- Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Fitr is a religious celebration taking place on the day following the last day of Ramadan. Eid Al Fitr literally means ‘celebration of eating’. In fact, while Ramadan is all about fasting, Eid Al Fitr, is all about eating and enjoying life and food pleasures. Traditional Moroccan dishes, raisins, almonds, and pastries usually won’t leave Moroccan tables for the whole day. As Moroccans often celebrate Eid Al Fitr with relatives (visiting family is very encouraged by Islam), Moroccans often take 3 days off to rest and visit family members they haven’t seen in a long time.
During Eid Al Fitr, each family must give a donation to someone in need, called Fatra. It can be either by giving a certain amount of money or giving a certain quantity of wheat grains like it was done back in the old days.
- Eid Al Adha
This is a celebration that is hated by all vegans around the world. In Islam, each Moroccan man who is married must sacrifice a sheep once a year. And this is what Eid Al Adha is about.
The celebration lasts for a week or so, and again, as it is a family celebration, people spend most of their time in their homes eating, visiting family members and eating. They have a sheep to finish remember?
But the most important thing about Eid Al Adha is that it represents sharing and generosity. In fact, according to Islam, a third of the sheep meat must be donated to a family in need, and many Moroccans donate more than that.
It can be very inconvenient to visit Morocco during this period. To give you an example, before Eid Al Adha, most families (mine included) always make sure they stock their fridges with everything they will be needing for a week (fruits, vegetables, milk, fish, etc.) as they know all markets will be closed during that period.
- Greetings and Gestures
In Morocco, two same-sex people will great each other with a handshake quickly followed by a kiss in each cheek, starting from the left. If the two persons are really happy to meet, the greeting will start with a hug, followed by as many kisses as one likes.
When I visit my father’s family near Fez, they are always super happy to see me. Each time, I get impressed (and glad) by the number of kisses and hugs I get.
When greetings concern two people of opposite sexes, it can go as far as a handshake. In fact, in this case, kissing or hugging is not possible unless the person greeted is a close family member. Besides, some Moroccans can be very strict with religion and think that handshaking with an opposite-sex person is a sin. That is why there will usually be a small waiting time to see if both people are okay with shaking hands. If one starts verbal greetings immediately, it means shaking hand is not an option.
Greeting verbally is another interesting thing about Moroccan culture. Once the handshaking, hugging, and kisses are done, each person will ask a flow of questions, about health, family (they sometimes ask for each member of the family) and future plans. A way to show that they really care about you.
- Moroccan culture and dress code
Morocco is a conservative country where showing a lot of skin for women is not accepted, but it doesn’t mean that women need to cover up entirely. Headscarves, for example, are not mandatory and wearing a simple sleeveless shirt or a midi skirt is totally possible. However, showing a lot of skin, décolletage or curves is not very respectful to local culture.
Want more details and ideas on how to dress while visiting Morocco? Read my article about what to wear in Morocco for women and men.
- Drinking Alcohol
One might think that because Morocco is an Islamic country, alcohol is prohibited and no Moroccan ever approached it. Well, that is not the case and this is one of Morocco cultural contradictions.
In fact, many Moroccans (men and women) drink alcohol and some Moroccan cities, like Marrakech, are known internationally for their loose nightlife. However, drinking alcohol remains taboo. That is why all places where you can find alcohol like bars and nightclubs will either have smoked glass to protect clients private life or simply be located in places with a low concentration of locals. However, showing drank in public spaces will surely make police intervene as it is considered as a violation of the law.
As I mentioned earlier, Moroccans are very helpful. For example, if they see you lost, they will happily help you find your way. However, sometimes, you will be expected to tip some services, even if they were not explicit in the menu. And that is when it gets a little bit tricky. But don’t worry, I am here to help you out.
First, make sure you read my article about safety in Morocco and how to react to some locals behaviors. Second, always have change on you. The best is to have a combination of 1-dirham piece (around 10 cents), 5-dirhams piece (around 50 cents) and 10-dirhams piece (around 1 dollar) to be able to tip precisely. Let’s say you want to tip someone 5 dirhams, but the only change you have is 10 dirhams. It is highly possible that the person you give the 10-dirhams to will take all the money and go. Last but not least, know that most acceptable tips go from 5 dirhams to 50 dirhams (5 dollars) depending on the service provided and how hard the task was.
Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes, Moroccans might offer to help you with something, like carry your luggage or accompany you to your hotel if you get lost. In these cases, know it is very likely the person offering the service will be waiting for your tipping once the service provided. In case you don’t want to tip, just decline the offer by saying ‘’“La, shoukrane” (“No, thank you”).
Dining and Social Events
Moroccans love inviting people they like to share a meal or something as casual as a traditional Moroccan mint tea with pastries. And if you are lucky to get invited to a Moroccan house, you are more likely to see authentic and pure Moroccan generosity.
In Morocco, It is considered polite to bring something to the hosts. Traditionally, Moroccan people used to bring boxes of milk or sugar as these two ingredients are, in Moroccan culture, symbols of prosperity. While this is still the case for some special events like marriage celebrations, bringing traditional Moroccan pastries and candies to the children will perfectly do the job. But don’t bring wine, unless you know your host drinks.
Before eating, you might be handed a wash basin to wash your hands: simply hold your hands over it while a kettle will pour water. Once finished, dry your hands on the towel provided.
Moroccans eat from the same big plate which they put in the center of the table. They also eat with their hands, but always from the triangle of food immediately in front of them. In fact, it is considered impolite to get the food in front of someone else. And if you don’t know how to eat with your hands, simply ask for a fork or spoon.
Moroccans will be very generous and will feed you from the beginning till the end. If they see you are not eating enough, they will insist and get confused, thinking you didn’t like the food. They can even cook an additional dish to make sure you eat well.
My advice would be to make sure you are hungry enough before heading to your host’s address, to be able to enjoy all the Traditional Moroccan food they will happily prepare for you. If you get full and they keep insisting you continue eating, just smile, pat your stomach and shake your head while saying “La, shoukrane” (“No, thank you”). They might still push you to eat after that, and that is how generous and caring Moroccans are.