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Tag: Customs

22

Morocco Lost in Translation

Last week a close Moroccan friend and I met for our weekly cup of tea at our usual café.

‘You know how much I like you foreigners,’ said my friend, ‘but you people confuse me, and other Moroccans as well.’

Smiling, I asked what he meant.

My friend went on to tell me of how he had been received at an American family’s home in Casablanca the week before. Following that visit, he invited the American family to his own home. A series of lost in translation moments had punctuated both visits.

As someone with one foot in the East and the other in the West, I could see the difficulties and, for this reason, I wanted to present a list of do’s and don’ts for Westerners living in Morocco.

Here it is:

When visiting a Moroccan home:

  • Take a gift, however small. Not to do so when arriving for a social visit is almost unthinkable. If there are children there, take something for them, or something straight-forward such a platter of pastries. Better to take more than less.
  • Don’t expect a tour of the house, or ask for one. Bedrooms and anything but the formal salon, will be probably off-limits, unless you know the family well.
  • Don’t be surprised if the television is left on all through the visit. TV is regarded as background noise in Morocco.
  • Don’t worry if people come in and out endlessly, while you feel awkwardly rooted to one formal chair. You’re a guest and, as a guest, you’re expected to be seated while everyone honours you. At prayer time members of the host family might slip out, pray, and then return.
  • And, as a respected guest, an abundance of food will be provided. Don’t gorge yourself on starters, as there will probably be large platters of cooked meat to follow.
  • The choicest pieces of meat may well be picked out and served to you. Don’t worry if you have to leave a little, because that’s fine in Morocco – just as eating every crumb is a sign that you are still hungry.
  • Do not help yourself to drinks, but wait for your hosts to serve you.
  • If eating from a communal dish of couscous or a tagine, keep to the triangle of the dish in front of you.
  • Don’t praise an individual object in the home too much, because it may well be presented to you as a gift.
  • Don’t take wine or an alcoholic drink unless you are very certain that the hosts drink.
  • Do make polite conversation, declaring how you adore Morocco, and Moroccan culture. Don’t launch into politics or religious matters.
  • Irrespective of whether you are the guest or the host, your children will be kissed by all. And, if it’s a conservative household, men either kiss each other’s cheeks (if already close friends), and women kiss women’s cheeks. Men shouldn’t kiss women and vice versa, unless you know the family well or if you know them to be less conservative. A handshake is always a good bet unless a cheek is offered.

 

When Receiving Moroccan Guests

  • On no account serve any dish containing pork or pork products.
  • Don’t necessarily ask your guests what they would like to drink. It’s better to just serve tea, or whatever, or to pour various cold drinks and present them on a tray. Don’t offer wine or beer unless you’re pretty sure your guests drink alcohol.
  • Never eat or drink anything until you are sure that your guests have all been taken care of. And never on any account help yourself to a second helping until all guests have taken what they need. If there’s a little food left at the end of the meal, never dive in and finish it if you are hosting the meal.
  • Remember that when receiving people in your home, they are traditionally guaranteed security beneath your roof. This means that you are obliged to treat them with respect, and so it’s not the right time to launch into severe arguments.
  • In Morocco, receiving a guest is regarded as an honour for the host, and so there should be an abundance of food. Don’t worry if you have many times what will be eaten, as you will be honoring your guests. Quantity, quantity, quantity.
  • Don’t offer a tour of your home, unless the guests are close friends. Moroccans are always confused about the idea of the house tour. It’s largely regarded as absurd.
  • Don’t stress if your guests sit in silence. In Morocco, as in much of the Arab world, silence is seen as a virtue and a medium through which people get to know each other.
  • Don’t be offended if your Moroccan friends don’t send a message of thanks. It’s not something required in the culture. But, you are likely to receive a return invitation instead.
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March 26, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Common Greetings and Phrases

Following on from yesterday, I want to highlight a few of the Arab expressions and phrases that are heard constantly in North Africa and the Middle East.


Assalam wa alaikum: As I said yesterday, this is the most common Arab greeting, meaning ‘Peace be upon you’.  It is uttered constantly, and it would be incorrect to omit it  when meeting someone, entering a shop, and so on.
Ahlan wa sahlan:  An all purpose relaxed greeting, favoured particularly in Egypt, that is truncated to ‘Ahlan’.
Bismillah:  ‘In the name of God’, it is said before a pious Muslim embarks on any activity at all. Before sitting down, before breaking bread or eating, or beginning just about any action that requires a little thought.
Alhamdullillah: ‘Praise God’. It’s used as a reply when someone asks you how you are. Also when one hears good news.
Tafaddul: Literally, ‘Honour me’, is an invitation to someone to sit down, come into their home, and so on.
Shukran: ‘Thank you’.
La illaha illa Allah, Muhammed ar-Rasul-Allah: ‘There is no god except Allah, Muhammed is the Messenger of God’. This is the Islamic Profession of Faith. To repeat it once is to testify once conversion to Islam.
La haula wa la quwwatah illa billahi al aali wa’l azeem: ‘There is no Power or Might accept God, the High, the Great.’ The phrase is sometimes said is an expression of great surprise.
Astaghfirullah: ‘I seek refuge in God’. The expression of alarm, disgust and so on.



TS

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March 25, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Greeting

In the Arab and Islamic world greeting people is very important. It’s usually much more than a passing ‘hello’, and can often turn into an elaborate exchange of expressions, and an abundant show of friendship. The Prophet noted that people ought to greet each other. And anyone who has travelled in an Arab country, must have seen local people greeting friends and acquaintances, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. Here in Morocco there is almost nothing so important as greeting someone, whether a stranger or a friend. Each morning when I meet the guardian’s here at our house for the first time, I spend a moment asking them how they, and how their families are, and of course shaking hands. Hand-shaking is a very big deal in the Arab world. It would be unthinkable for me to greet another man and refrain from shaking their hand. The same goes for public greetings. When you enter a bank for example, or even an elevator, you always say: ‘As salam wa alaikum’, ‘Peace be upon you’.  I suppose it came from the times when you never knew whether a stranger was a friend or foe. And by expressing your greeting, you were declaring that you were friendly, and not about to stab them in the back. In the Arab world it can be considered inappropriate for a man to ask another man about his wife. So you always find yourself being asked “how is the family?” A conversation between two friends will never begin until such enquiries have been made.  On my travels I have noticed that almost all societies outside Europe and North America have such elaborate greetings. They are part of the culture, an expression that runs far deeper than the simplicity of the words. Last week I went to London to two or three days, and in the middle of the trip I found myself getting into a crowded elevator. As soon as I managed to squeeze in, I spent a moment greeting everybody, as I would do in Morocco. I did it on autopilot, and found myself  met with looks of blank amazement. After all, in London there can sometimes be a sense of hostility to outright strangers. But then, as the elevator rose up towards the top of the building, a few of the other passengers nervously greeted me back. It was a heart-warming experience, and I could sense that the others just like me felt energised in some way by the greetings someone they didn’t know.



TS