December 18, 2010 § 2 Comments
To my family arriving in Casablanca on the last day of the month:
I cannot wait to see you. I’m sure you’ve already been reading through travel guides and Rick Steven’s pamphlets, but allow me to add a bit.
Things you can get here easily, so do not bring: An outlet adapter (you can buy one for less than $1); toiletries unless you are very particular; umbrella; batteries;
Bring: camera, modest clothing, shoes you can slip on/off (if you get invited into someone’s house, the most like have a Moroccan salon, it’s poor manners to walk on the carpet with your shoes); RAINJACKET; travelers medicine; school ID; hand sanitizer
helpful phrases: You will sound outdated if you use any classical arabic you might already know. The dialect here is faster, generally without many vowels, and blends in an awful lot of French.
Nam or wa-ha: yes/ok
shokran: thank you
merhad or toilette: bathroom
bishal: how much?
cool or coolee!: eat! (a command)
ahgee: come (a command)
hack: take (a command)
qahwa: coffee (with a guttural Q sound, NOT K)
salam or salamaleikum: hello, greetings. This is ALWAYS appropriate to say
try not to go out in public with wet hair, it generally means you’ve just had sex; don’t buckle up in taxis, it’s offensive to the driver; pinky promises have a different meaning; lighter hair is a lightning rod for unwanted attention; if a woman comes up and starts drawing henna on your arm, she will demand payment afterwards; false guides are everywhere, you must be insistent in refusing their services.
It’s a good idea to buy a small package of tissues. Even if there are Westen-style toilets, there is often no toilet paper. Far more common are the “turkish toilets”, a squat pit of sorts with a faucet to the side or a bottle of water. Perhaps it’s appropriate to add that people eat with their right hand…
Many bottled drinks and yogurt and eggs are either not refrigerated or only mildly cold. You get used to it.
The streets are a free-for-all. Cars, rollerblades, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, pushcarts and pedestrians. Jay-walking is normal. Mom, it’ll be ok.
If you are eating something on the train, in a waiting room, or anywhere in close vicinity to other people, you should offer a large part of whatever your eating to people around you. It is very poor manners to eat without at least offering. If it’s offered to you, you don’t have to accept but sometimes, food is just placed in your hands or lap.
Street names are much less commonly used than landmarks and neighborhoods and family names.
Generally, beggars on the street are not homeless, but they do rely on handouts for income. Most just sit and accept coins. The old men and women will bless you. In centre-ville, the beggars are more aggressive, almost rude in their approach. If this type has a kid with them, it is NOT their child, it is some poor homeless kid they are exploiting to get more sympathy. You will see more beggars out on Fridays than the rest of the week, because it is the holy day where many people give food and/or money to the poor. It’s less common in Rabat than other areas, but from time to time you will see packs of homeless boys sniffing glue.
It’s possible you will see protestors while in Rabat or Casablanca, most commonly right outside of Parliament. Usually traffic is all that’s affected; it’s peaceful despite a police presence and not a problem to watch in passing. However, if the king or someone important are around, the police will react and use various methods to disperse the crowd. At that point, it’s a good idea to leave. Cafes are social settings for men, though it is increasingly common for women to frequent them as well. Sometimes, even if I see all men in a café, I go in, just to be pretentious or defiant I guess. But if you don’t feel comfortable, there are plenty of other cafes. Be weary of street food vendors, be weary of tap water. When in doubt, instincts are good.
The currency is MAD, the dirham. One dollar is about 8 ½ dirham; or one dirham is just over 10 cents. It’s easy to get excited about the exchange, but don’t go overboard. Also, keep in mind that everything is relative, so things we might consider a smoking steal of a deal, others might consider an astronomical amount. The ATMs will usually give you 200dh bills, the largest bill. The smallest is a 20dh bill.
You can bargain for almost everything including: clothes, household appliances, furniture, RENT, some taxis (on requested runs), virtually EVERYTHING in a souk like bulk food items, rugs, or pets, anything on a tarp or non permanent shop, domestic services (maids, plumbers, etc). You can’t bargain for things that have the price listed (prix fixé), staples, restaurant meals, things in a pharmacy or grocery store, school supplies. For meat and produce, prices are listed per kilo, which cannot be negotiated, though sometimes they will cut you a deal.
A word about males for my sisters: you WILL get catcalled, you WILL be followed. You might possibly get grabbed. Being in a group does not necessarily make you less vulnerable, though having a male in the group helps. That being said, there is nothing to worry about as long as you expect the harassment and are prepared. After putting up with it for several months, I am getting a terrible habit of yelling back, and I invented something I call the zig-zag approach. But the best option is to ignore them. Even turning and saying “please leave me alone” is counted as a reaction, and they feed off any response. Look the other way, do not make eye contact. If you are being followed, do not noticeably slow down or speed up to get away, they will only take it as a game (think of little puppies chasing feet). If the followers are really persistent (this has only happened a few times), get to an area where there are a lot of people around or you are in eye sight of a police, then turn and tell them to leave. Sometimes you can ask old women on the street for help and they will give the pursuers an earful. Often times they will switch languages, trying to see if you react to one of them. The advice stays the same, ignore all of it. Save your smiles for families and women, but try not to even look at some of the guys, they take any sign of recognition as an invitation. The time of day does not necessarily make a difference, though use common sense. Age and occupation do not necessarily make a difference either (I’ve been catcalled by teenagers, bus drivers, etc). That being said, I do walk alone often, even at night, but always with pepper spray. The reality remains, if you are female, you are prey. Period.
Most importantly, don’t take my word for anything. Get here and experience it with your own eyes and ears and nose.