At Buffer, we regularly share cultural spotlights from colleagues to connect our global team, and help us understand one another at a deeper level.
– Katie, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Manager @ Buffer
Here’s a slightly edited version of a cultural spotlight we recently highlighted from Ismaïl, a Product Designer at Buffer.
I am 9,762 days old. I spent every day of my life in Morocco. I was born in a Ksar, a fortified village called “Zaouit Sidi Ali,” one of the 360 Kasrs in Er-Rissani.
People from my village used to live by farming – they spent all their days taking care of their date palm trees, and they ate and sold the date fruits to buy the basics of life, such as food, water, and clothes.
After years of droughts and when I was four, my extended family of 18 members moved 60 miles to Errachidia. It was one of my family’s big moves to look for a better future with more work opportunities and better education for their children.
Here’s more about life in Morocco from education and religion to greetings and food.
In Moroccan culture, family relationships are the most important component of social life. I lived my whole life with my extended family in a shared home. In our culture, it is thought that sons should only leave the house to work. Even though I am living on my own in Casablanca right now with my brother, all my family still live together in Errachidia.
While I was a child, I had been sharing a room with my brother and two cousins, I rarely felt alone. I always felt a great sense of family and community. Women usually stay home and take care of children while men spend their day outside working. Everyone was taking care of each other. We believe that the bigger the family, the more people there are to take care of you, and the better off you are.
The education system in Morocco comprises pre-school, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. At that time, no one in my family had an education degree. My father and uncles had only been to primary school, my mother and aunts had never been to school, they learned the basics of Arabic writing and reading from the mosque, where they used to memorize the Quran.
My family was very aware of the importance of education, they always said they had no chance at their age, and they won’t let the same thing happen to their children. I grew up seeing every one of them working very hard to make sure we went to school and had everything we needed.
Like the majority of children my age, I attended a public school, where corporal punishment was a normal thing. Primary school was not easy, teachers have the authority to punish and discipline students. On the other hand, complaining to parents would not change anything as they believe punishment is the only way to get children to focus on their education.
Secondary school was a little far from my home, I used to walk for half an hour to get there. It is not long compared to many children in remote areas who used to walk for 1-2 hours to get to school.
The majority of Moroccan universities are free of charge, attending a good one requires good marks in addition to passing an exam. Most students receive education funds to pay for their studies except the ones from wealthy families. While I was still living with my family, I spent all the money on my English courses.
I attended The Faculty of Sciences and Techniques in Errachidia and got my bachelor’s in software engineering. I moved to Casablanca to get my software engineering diploma at ENSETM.
Life in Morocco depends on which city or region you are living in, growing up in Errachidia is different from growing up in Casablanca. The first has a slow lifestyle, while the second has a rapid one.
I grew up in an environment where relationships are everywhere, our neighbors are close friends, and they are part of the family. Whenever they need bread, salt, an onion…they knock on the door and kindly ask if we happen to have any of these items.
Living in a country with many challenges teaches us what it means to be a resilient person who is happy with less and isn’t bothered by discomforts. No matter how rich you may become, you always appreciate what you have and understand everything can be taken from you anytime.
The diversity of Moroccan land
Most people think that Morocco is only dunes of sand and camels (which are really beautiful by the way), this mistaken belief could be coming from the movie, Road to Morocco which represents Morocco as a desert country. The truth is, most of Morocco’s territory is occupied by vast mountain ranges, with the Atlas Mountains stretching from the central north to the southwest of the country.
Overall, Morocco gets plenty of sun all year round, but it has a variety of weather patterns. The desert is hot and dry. The coastal plains have mild temperatures. In the summer, the mountains are hot and dry. In the winter, they are cold, rainy, and often snowy.
Fun fact: In Morocco, You may be skiing in the North while the temperature is -5°c, but you can swim or surf the next day down South at 27°c.
Almost all Moroccans are Muslim and Islam is the state religion. A small number of people are Christian. An even smaller minority are Jewish. The kingdom of Morocco is one of the oldest monarchies in the world, It was founded 12 centuries ago. The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is referred to as “Amir El Mouminin,” or leader of the faithful. While the motto of Morocco is “God, Fatherland, the King.”
The original name of Morocco was «Marrakesh» which in Berber language means “The land of God.” While Morocco is in Africa, it is only nine miles from Europe, which makes Morocco a mixture of races, with mostly Arabs and Berber.
Generally speaking, between Moroccans in the streets, you will primarily hear Moroccan Darija and never Classical Arabic. Depending on where you are, you can also hear Amazigh language in the Berber areas and Hassani dialect in the south.
Unlike Classical Arabic, which is written and spoken, Moroccan Darija is only spoken. It is very flexible and dynamic, it contains some weird expressions that always makes me laugh, one of them is: “3tini wahed zouj bidat” the literal translation is “Give me one three eggs” but it means “Give me three eggs” not sure what the “one” is for. 😂
While a lot of Darija’s vocabulary comes from Arabic and Amazigh, many words have entered the language thanks to French, Spanish, and other languages.
French is spoken widely in Morocco, and you will have more facilities if you are a French speaker. Some locals speak Spanish in northwestern Morocco because of the Spanish culture’s proximity and influence.
Most people in Morocco wear ordinary clothing like much of the world wears. However, there are national costumes that are occasionally worn for holy days and celebrations. Some of them are:
Djellabas: a long loose dress with a hood and long sleeves, The fabric of the Djellaba changes according to the weather. During the summer, we wear light cotton-made Djellaba; during the winter, we wear a Djellaba made of wool to keep us warm. Men often fold the hood over the “tarbouche” (a small Moroccan red hat) and usually wear the “babouches,” a heelless slipper that is usually white or yellow.
Kaftan: a world-widely famous dress worn by women for special occasions such as weddings or engagement parties. While it is very much decorated, it is pretty much like a djellaba without the hood.
Moroccan weddings are a wondrous occasion where all Moroccan traditions meet, including fashion, music, and food.
Have you been to a Moroccan wedding? I guess not. If you ever get the chance, though, don’t miss it. Just make sure you have three days to spare. That’s right, a traditional Moroccan wedding lasts three days and ends with the wildest party you can imagine.
One of the lovely things I like about Moroccan weddings is The Amariya, a traditional Moroccan chair made of wood or metal, ornamented with gold or silver. The chair allows the bride and groom to be presented to their guests during the wedding ceremony.
Food: my favorite part 😋
Moroccans generally have three meals per day. Breakfast might consist of tea, bread, olive oil, butter, and preserves, or a pancake-like food known as Baghrir.
Lunch is the largest meal of the day and Tagine is one of the most famous daily meals for it. It is a stew of meat (usually beef, lamb or chicken) or fish with vegetables, spices, and perhaps fruits and nuts, slowly cooked on a bed of oil in an earthenware pot.
You might be asking how we eat this? I will answer that, but let me first tell you about “khobza,” our own style of bread. It’s a round flat loaf that is torn off in pieces and used to eat every meal. There are some exceptions, like Couscous which I will tell you about very soon.
In Morocco, the whole family eats from one big plate, and everyone uses their right hand. It’s called Tegomass. You grab a piece of bread to get some sauce, meat, and potatoes from the plate. The meat is usually at the center, and it is the last item you should eat. Everyone respect this order.
While eating, guests are usually encouraged to eat freely; this is a Moroccan way to show generosity.
Lunch also includes different dishes depending on the day, the occasion, or the season. some of them are:
- Couscous: (the national dish of morocco) Many people think that Couscous is a daily meal in Morocco but that is wrong. Couscous is the main dish just on Fridays. Cooking couscous is a work of art, I have always admired seeing my mother making it. (Fun fact: I worked with a Moroccan company where we used to give couscous instead of tacos in Slack when complimenting colleagues).
- Pastilla: one of the most luxurious Moroccan dishes. It is spiced pigeon meat encased in layers of flaky Warkha pastry, often dusted with sugar or cinnamon.
- Tanjia: It is a pot made of puffed clay, and a meal of lamb or beef, with which the spices are mixed and cooked in the same pot and buried under hot ash.
- Hergma: lamb and cow’s feet cooked with hot spices and hummus.
And there are many more including Rfissa, Hout, Kefta, Briouats, Bisara, and Chebakia.
Dinner in Morocco ranges from light to heavy meals, with soup, known as harira, and bread being common.
Moroccans are serious mint tea drinkers – we usually pour it from as high as you can. The cultural significance behind this is that the higher the tea is poured, the more welcomed your guests are. In addition, pouring the tea from a high distance creates little white foam bubbles that rest on top of the tea, and the idea is the more bubbles on top of the cup, the nicer the tea will look.
A famous Moroccan Proverb says: “When the stomach is full, it tells the head to sing.” I think that gives you an idea about what I will be telling you about next…yes, Music.
Music and dance
Moroccan Music is one of the fundamental aspects of Morocco’s culture. There are many different musical styles to be found, each one with its own history.
- Andalusian Music: As the name suggests, Andalusian music comes from Andalusia, in Spain. It sounds like a blend of Arab and Spanish music and is performed with classical instruments.
- Amazigh Music: it is called Ahidus. The music is expressed through collective dance and song and originated among tribes in the Middle and Eastern High Atlas.
- Chaabi Music: it is a popularized folk genre that often comments on social issues and non-traditional themes. it mostly used at weddings
- Gnawa Music: Songs are typically played using a three-string camel skin bass instrument (hajhouj), heavy castanets (krakebs), and religious chanting.
There are modern Moroccan music styles like Funk, Hiphop, Rock, Raï, and more.
One of the famous singers in Morocco is Saad Lamjarred. His hit song “Lm3allem” was the first Arabic song to surpass a billion views on YouTube.
In addition to the great diversity of melodies and rhythms, there is a strange musical instrument that adjusts the rhythm, draws attention, and provokes the desire to dance. I’ts name is “Al-Qa’dah”. This video shows how it works in a beautiful dance competition with the Flamenco.
Fan fact: Al-Qa’dah is not only an instrument. It is a metal bowl for washing and cleaning clothes too.
Holidays and events
Morocco is a land of many festivals and holidays. There are even three New Years that are for everyone to celebrate. One is from the Gregorian Calendar, the other one is for the Amazigh New Year or Yennayer, and the last is the Islamic New Year, Fatih Muharram.
Moroccans celebrate secular and Muslim religious holidays. One major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Fitr. It is observed during the last three days of the fasting month, called Ramadan.
The other major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Adha. The anniversary of the event is described in the Quran. God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismail but provided a ram instead. Every household across Morocco sacrifices a sheep and eats it at a family meal during Eid al-Adha.
There are other national holidays that we celebrate. One of the most important ones is The Green March which liberated the Sahara from the Spanish occupation when King Hassan II called on all Moroccans to undertake a long march to the Kingdom’s south.
Cost of living
If you have a roof over your head, enough food, an income that covers your needs, and maybe a bit more, then you are already blessed!
Whenever you ask a Moroccan about how they are doing, they will say “Alhamdulillah” or “Thank god!” then follow up with “Hssen mn chi w kfess mn chi” which means “Better Than Some, Worse Than Others.” No matter what problems you are dealing with, there are people who are dealing with worse. I have always felt that these words are full of hope and gratitude, while for others, it makes people find reasons to stay where they are and never try.
Morocco is not an expensive country. The amount of money you’ll spend here depends on the city you live in. Big cities like Casablanca are two to three times more expensive than smaller cities. Generally speaking, around $1,000 per month is a decent income for a household that does not count more than 4 members.
Souk: Millions of items … and no prices
I spent most of the summertime in the Souk (Moroccan market), helping my father with his small business selling kids toys. As an introverted person, it was always uncomfortable for me to be in this place. As a vendor, you are not supposed to wait for customers to come and buy. You have to invite them. You have to shout the prices as loud as you can. The more people can hear, the more chances you have that they will buy from you. It took me years to accept who I am and do it confidently.
Shopping in Moroccan Souks requires some real price negotiation skills. Negotiating is part of the Moroccan culture. It is a normal habit for the Moroccan people. Actually, no one accepts the first price in the Souk.
Moroccan Souk is the best place to get lost in. I always admired the Attar shop, the colorful dunes of spices, and their different smells.
Morocco is a cat country
When wandering the streets, you’re likely to encounter hundreds of stray cats everywhere you look. These cute critters are generally loved, fed, and taken care of by locals.
Most of the cats live on the street. The city is their home, and they are a well-integrated part of it. They have no fear of humans, they sit where they please in the middle of busy markets, and they look both ways before crossing the road.
Good luck counting street cats in Morocco!
Moroccans shake hands during greetings and farewells. Close friends of the same sex commonly hug and exchange kisses on the cheeks. People of the opposite sex just shake hands. The most common greeting among Moroccans is the phrase “Al-salamu alaykum”, which means “May peace be upon you.” The response is Wa “alaykum al-salam”, or “May peace be upon you also.”
In Morocco, we have a pretty much-extended greeting. It is common to inquire about the person and his family as well (father, mother, children, spouse…).
We do not rush
Moroccans do not rush, everything will happen in the right time insha’Allah “if God wills”. A famous proverb says “la zerba ala slah” means “There is no gain in haste”, and another one says “Li zerbo mato” which means “People that rush are the ones that are killed.”
While it has some pros, it has a lot of cons. Going to a hospital in Morocco is often a one-day journey. In the waiting room, you never know when it’s going to be your turn. It’s the same when it comes to paperwork and all that kind of stuff.
We love soccer ⚽️
No matter what you call it, soccer, football, or as they say in Morocco Koura,
Moroccans love football – it is the national sport. Our team the ultras are one of the best worldwide!
Moroccans like playing football as much as watching it, and women enjoy it just as much as men, and they avidly follow both the global and local soccer tournaments.
Fun facts about Morocco:
- Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Prison Break, Inception, and dozens of other movies and tv series have been filmed in Morocco.
- The Film Casablanca wasn’t shot In Casablanca.
- Moroccan mothers have a great obsession with their living room. As kids, we were not allowed to sit there. The living room needs to stay intact for guests. You dream of one day sitting there. Mum would clean it regularly, although it already looked spotless.
- Morocco is the world’s largest hashish exporter. According to the World Customs Organisation, It supplies 70% of European Hashish, (I have never used it ;))
In Morocco, we use a quote form Ibn Khaldūn a lot, which says “ما دمت في المغرب فلا تستغرب” which means “As long as you are in Morocco, do not be surprised.”Don’t be surprised how weird things are. Don’t be surprised how good or bad it could sometimes be. Don’t feel surprised how illogical things sometimes are. Moroccans are so attuned to being shocked and surprised for the umpteenth time, and they have lost their sense of wonder.
Most Moroccans dream of going abroad. Many of them are trying to leave the country using irregular forms, while most of those abroad dream of the day they will be back.
In Morocco, If someone says wait a minute, it could be an hour.
In Morocco, if you are falling asleep people will wake you up to ask you if you are sleeping.
In Morocco, What’s in between two coffee shops? Another coffee shop.
In Morocco, the symbol of love is not the heart but… the liver.
As Moroccans, We disagree a lot on what type of Morocco we want, but we all agree on one thing: that we love this country because it is the land, it is the family, it is the food.
Hope this has given you a little glimpse into life in Morocco and encourage you to visit the country one day.