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Eric: Moroccan Etiquette

June 26, 2010

Living with a host family in Morocco means I meet a lot of people, including both relatives and friends of the family. Thus, greeting and proper etiquette are very important. For people who I meet for the first time, they generally give me a handshake (right hand only) and then place the hand on their hearts. They greet the family a little differently. In the in addition to the handshake, they also kiss each other on both cheeks. I did this first time yesterday, and it was a good thing I learned how to do it in Italy, otherwise it could have been very awkward. The trick is not actually to kiss, but rather make the sound when you place your cheek next to the other person’s. On the other hand, for the family members, the normal greeting would include a handshake and some form of verbal greeting, which I am still learning. My highlight of the day was that for the first time since I have been here, I managed to have a conversation with my host mother, in Arabic, which though only involved normal day greeting (“Hello, how are you. Good, fine”) and lasted like a minute but still a big step. Those Arabic lessons are definitely paying off.

We also had our on-site orientation yesterday. I did not know that Fez is a city with 1.5 million (possibly 2 million) inhabitants, which is a lot for a city that’s really not that big. I also learned many things about Moroccan culture, such as that the goal of a male–female relationships is usually marriage, and public displays of affection iare considered to be offensive and in poor taste. I can see how Westerners would offend the local people, with our emphasis placed on freedom of expression (of every kind apparently). Many people have the impression that women are not equal to men in a Muslim country. This is not so much in the case in Morocco, where law has been modified to give women rights men have. The king, Mohammed VI, has been reforming the country ever since he became king in 1999. After the orientation, people on the Minnesota program were invited to have lunch with the program coordinator here, which was quite delicious, but lasted all the way into the afternoon class. Lunch time really is between noon to 3 pm in Morocco, and is considered to be family time, which is quite similar to Italy.

After class today, me and my roommate went across the street to one of the cafes to watch the World Cup and saw the US beat Algeria. It’s quite an interesting experience, as most Moroccans root for Algeria (being the only team from the Arab world to compete). So whenever Algeria misses a shot, there were both cheers and groans in the cafe. It’s a good thing that we don’t have people super into football (as they call it in everywhere else outside of the US) with us and in the cafe, otherwise it could very well have turned ugly.

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