On a recent
trip to Morocco, I became fascinated with the Arabic language
and culture. Determined to make the most of my travels, as I
swayed, precariously perched atop the hump of my dromedary on
the edge of the Sahara desert, I had lots of time to practice
twirling my rrrr's. This brought warm smiles from the Bedouin
camel drivers and wonderful expressions of hospitality. I could
command my dromedary to "hurry up" (YA-LA, YA-LA) and say "God
Bless You" when someone sneezed (ALLAH-HAM-DO-LE-LE-LA). Knowing
how to say words of common courtesy really made a difference
in my travels. Here are a few "Do's and Don'ts" of the Arab
world from an American prospective:
Customs, Courtesies, Gestures and Body Language
- Don't show
the bottoms of your shoes or feet - it's offensive. Keep your
feet flat on the floor. Be prepared to take your shoes off before
- If you're
a tourist, don't try to dress like the natives. You could pick
the wrong thing e.g. head gear covered with a "gutra" cloth,
held in place with an "angal" - this is what they tether their
camels with! Besides, people from other countries can usually
tell in a minute where you're from by looking at your shoes.
- Don't act
like everything is "bigger and better" in the US - avoid making
comparisons of the two countries.
Your host may offer you coffee, tea or fruit juice (not alcohol).
Make two or three vague refusals before accepting, as flatly
refusing is a criticism of the host's hospitality.
- Eat and
hold cups and glasses with your right hand. The left hand Is
considered unclean. Remember that during "Ramadan" fasting occurs
from sunrise to sunset.
- Good topics
of discussion are history, sports and culture. Bad topics of
discussion are Mid-East tensions or religious zeal.
- Good friends,
male and female, kiss cheeks but only with the same sex. One
of my favorite protocol faux pas stories is of an American CEO
who visited a member of royalty in the Middle East. He greeted
his host with a handshake and lifted the veil of his host's
wife, planting a kiss on her cheek! The host slapped the American
CEO in the face and totally mortified, left the room.
- In the
Muslim world, Friday is the day of rest. Thursday is often a
day off also.
- Never give
the "thumbs up" gesture or gesture with your left hand.
- Wear modest
clothing in public and COVER your body. Women should keep a
scarf with them to enter mosques. If you receive lewd stares
or children pelt your posterior with small pebbles, you'll know
you are too revealing.
thank your host when leaving, "Show-KRON-Allah-WA Jeep"
Two languages, Berber and Arabic, are spoken in Morocco. The
speakers of each are equally proud of their unique heritage,
so you should avoid confusing the two languages.
Moroccans to position themselves in closer physical proximity
to you. In America, social distance is three feet.
- "Yes" often
- Never embarrass
a Moroccan. "Saving face" is important.
- If you
are the male honored guest, you will be seated to the right
of the host.
- Leave some
food on your plate to signal you have had enough. If you clean
your plate, your host will continue to offer you food until
you burst! Adding salt is an insult to your host.
appropriate gifts. If you are meeting someone for the first
time, wait until after that first encounter to present the gift.
Your contact needs time to get to know you first.
- Don't give:
liquor, pork, items with logos, figures of dogs or owls.
- Don't bring
food or beverages to someone's home -- it implies criticism
of the host.
- Avoid gifts
in the colors of pink, violet or yellow because these are colors
associated with death. Depending upon how Westernized the recipient
is, he may not open a gift in the presence of the giver. This
is traditional, so do not take offense.
- Do give
books or small items -- especially those made in the United
States -- to your host's children. Please turn items over to
double check tags to determine where ANY gift is made before
giving it. For example you wouldn't want to give an Arab a gift
made in Israel.
- To refuse
a gift from your host would be considered rude.
- Don't admire
an object too much or you may receive it as a gift!
- Don't give
gifts that are commonly found in the country that you are visiting
- A thoughtful
gift to a Moslem is a personalized engraved compass. This allows
them to find Mecca no matter where they are.
- It is perfectly
acceptable to attach your business card to the gift.
gifts from San Francisco: Carved cable cars, Tiffany paperweight
shaped as a glass globe with stars denoting Morocco and your
country. Engraved Tiffany silver tray commemorating the date
and occasion of your visit. Morton Beebe's beautiful photographic
book, signed and dated as a gift to your host, entitled "San
gain a wonderful sense of self-confidence by knowing a few of
these basic rules of protocol, and the impression you create
will help you foster respect and trust. Good luck in your travels!
Resources on Morocco:
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