Cultural taboos to avoid in Morocco

When visiting Morocco, a lot of tourists worry about the rules and customs they might need to follow to avoid offending their hosts. While Moroccan people in general are incredibly kind and understanding, it definitely helps to know what you’re signing up for before you arrive.

This article will give you an overview of things that may be okay back home, but could get you into trouble abroad.

First of all, how you are expected to act depends a lot on where you are and what situation you’re in. Hotels and hostels often have looser expectations than family homes and Morocco’s cultural taboos are enforced less intensely in bigger tourist cities like Marrakech than in rural or conservative areas, but here are some general rules that it never hurts to follow:

Don’t ever…

Dress too liberally

Women should have their shoulders and legs covered, at the very least. For men, you can get away with shorts but most grown men wear pants. Don’t wear anything too sheer or tightly fitting. There is no need to go all the way and wear a headscarf unless you anticipate going to a very rural or conservative area.

If you’re a woman who’s nervous about the safety or ease of visiting Morocco, I recommend this article on street harassment and this one on traveling as a woman.

Wear your shoes inside

Moroccans wear slippers inside their homes and leave their dirty outside shoes at the door. You should do the same unless explicitly told not to.

Eat with your left hand

If you’re at a restaurant in a tourist city, you should be okay. But if you’re eating with a family, especially a very traditional one, you should be eating with your right hand. I once stayed with a family that didn’t even want me using utensils with my left.

Bad mouth the king/God

Just don’t do it. Even if you feel like somebody agrees with you, it’s never a good idea to bait a Moroccan citizen into sharing negative opinions of their government or Islam, since it’s not always safe for them. Also, at the end of the day it’s not your country/religion, and you should keep your thoughts to yourself.

Turn down hospitality

As a guest, you’re expected to indulge. Drink plenty of tea, eat plenty of food, always ask for seconds if you’d like to show that a dish is good. Moroccans are incredible hosts and having people over is generally a big affair with lots of time spent socializing and lots of food eaten.

If it comes up, you should also accept a host’s offers of henna, even if being temporary tattooed isn’t your cup of tea.

Get too physical

Even if you’re traveling with a spouse or significant other, too much PDA is a major taboo in Morocco. It’s probably best to stick to hand holding and other innocent, non-sexual activities, as premarital sex is heavily looked down upon, and even then sex within marriage is kept very private.

Don’t be surprised if some hotels won’t let you share a hotel room with somebody of the opposite gender unless you’re married. It goes without saying that Morocco is also not an LGBT-friendly country, so same-sex PDA is not only looked down upon, but could put you in danger.

Enter a Mosque if you’re not a Muslim

It’s technically illegal anyway except for the Hassan Mosque in Casablanca, but even if it wasn’t, I strongly recommend against this. Respecting religious spaces that are not your own is one of the cardinal rules of travel, and Moroccans take religion very seriously. Just like bad mouthing Islam, entering a mosque where you are not welcome is a universal cultural taboo in Morocco, no matter how liberal an area you’re in.

 

As mentioned before, how heavily these rules are enforced really depends on your location. In general, major tourist hubs like Tangier, Marrakech and Essaouira are fairly lenient, but following along with these cultural expectations will help you avoid unwanted attention.

Cities like Tetouan and Fes are very conservative (Northern Morocco is more conservative in general than the South) and following the cultural norms related to dress and sexuality could be a matter of safety.

Less popular tourist destinations like Rabat and Casablanca are a bit more liberal, but it’s still expected that you know and respect these cultural rules.

Cultural taboos in Morocco can feel overwhelming, but it’s easy to get by if you pay close attention to the people around you. If you notice yourself getting a lot of unwanted attention or disapproval, you might want to return to this list to figure out what you can do to fit in.

2 thoughts on “Cultural taboos to avoid in Morocco

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  1. I would add one item to your list: Morocco people don’t like to be photographed. It is only polite to ask permission before doing it and to not do it if they say no. I have seen lots of people hiding their faces if they saw us take a picture (even if they weren’t in the frame)…they do get very upset when people take their pictures without permission. (Suzanne)

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