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Observing Proper Protocol in Morocco
  By Sherri Ferris, President and CEO
Protocol Professionals, Inc.
 

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:

Moroccan Customs, Courtesies, Gestures and Body Language
  1. 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 entering buildings.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Good topics of discussion are history, sports and culture. Bad topics of discussion are Mid-East tensions or religious zeal.
  6. 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.
  7. In the Muslim world, Friday is the day of rest. Thursday is often a day off also.
  8. Never give the "thumbs up" gesture or gesture with your left hand.
  9. 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.
  10. Always 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.
  11. Expect Moroccans to position themselves in closer physical proximity to you. In America, social distance is three feet.
  12. "Yes" often means "Possibly".
  13. Never embarrass a Moroccan. "Saving face" is important.
  14. If you are the male honored guest, you will be seated to the right of the host.
  15. 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.
Gift-Giving
  1. Choose 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.
  2. Don't give: liquor, pork, items with logos, figures of dogs or owls.
  3. Don't bring food or beverages to someone's home -- it implies criticism of the host.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. To refuse a gift from your host would be considered rude.
  7. Don't admire an object too much or you may receive it as a gift!
  8. Don't give gifts that are commonly found in the country that you are visiting e.g. tea.
  9. A thoughtful gift to a Moslem is a personalized engraved compass. This allows them to find Mecca no matter where they are.
  10. It is perfectly acceptable to attach your business card to the gift.
  11. Suggested 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 Francisco".

You will 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!

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