Morocco cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
An example would be asking people questions about their health, work and the weather. Replies such as saying that everything is going well at work, even if it is actually not the case are mostly given out of politeness. Following a brief introduction, they will get to the heart of the matter and will wait until someone else has started speaking before joining in the conversation. Therefore, if you do not want to waste time or if you find that introductions are taking a bit too long, simply broach the topic of the meeting and everyone will follow your lead.
Unlike Canadians, Moroccans do not talk about sex and nor is it the subject of jokes. General topics are considered sources of amusement and you should never make fun of a specific person unless you know him/her very well.
During a conversation, do not hesitate to come back to something you were talking about in order to find out someone’s honest opinion; people often agree without totally being convinced. Therefore, listen to the disagreements and comments that will come later and don’t simply trust the initial agreement.
Negotiations, particularly when discussing pricing, may take quite some time since Moroccans always want to have the last word and feel that they came out on top. Thus, in order to put an end to long discussions during meetings, give them the impression that they have won the debate.
Do not be surprised if everyone talks at the same time as this is very commonplace. Simply stop talking and come back to the conversation a bit later in order to ensure that everyone has understood what you were saying.
Moroccans from the higher socio-economic class (who are therefore better educated) keep things to themselves and are very polite. I would say that they do not appreciate people being too familiar when they first meet. Speaking about family, an important aspect in Moroccan life, is always a good topic since Moroccans quite often ask each other about their respective families. There are many taboo subjects, the major one being the King; it is essential that you never criticize the King until you are very comfortable with the people and in an appropriate situation. Moroccans are very proud and do not appreciate it when people pass judgment on their country. Other sensitive subjects include Islam and women’s rights.
Always shake hands with women unless the woman offers you her cheek. In this case, you may kiss her on alternating cheeks three times.
Generally, the norm is to address people using the formal form of the word "you" ("vous" in French) unless they ask you or you ask them to do otherwise. However, you should not make this request during the initial meeting as using the formal form of "you" is a sign of respect and professionalism. If you do not know the person at all, address them as Mr. or Mrs. [last name]. Later, you can simply call them by their first name.
When speaking with men, keep direct eye contact; looking away is an indication that the person is not in agreement with your idea or that he/she is in thought. You should always respect women and if you notice that a woman is not looking at you when she is speaking, you should do the same out of politeness and also to show that you are respectful and have been brought up well. Women, particularly those who are married, are often addressed as Mrs. followed by their family name. You may ask to call people by their first name, but they may only agree to this out of politeness when in fact they would prefer that you do not address them in such a manner. In this case, follow your intuition.
Moroccans use facial expressions instead of words to express when something is too much, when they know that someone is exaggerating, or to say that they have not been understood correctly. Hand gestures are used a lot as well.
Eye contact is not as important as it is in Canada. Since there is a large gap between social classes (Morocco is a very hierarchical society), it is common that a person of a lower social class will not look a person of a higher class directly in the eyes; rather he/she will make only fleeting contact. Unlike North Americans, who are very direct and often get straight to the point, Moroccans prefer to stick to protocol and do not always say what they are thinking in a straightforward manner.
Display of emotion
In the business world, some people tend to make a lot of promises to convince you that they are telling the truth and that you should believe what they are saying. For example, they will say: "I swear to you that it is the correct price" or "I give my word that the price you propose is too low."
Seldom do you meet someone who will swear or use off-colour language as this is a sign of disrespect.
From my own experience, I would say that they are acceptable in public and not that uncommon when people of the same social class are around one another. However, when a "superior" is around, people are very reserved, will not speak very much, and will display their emotions infrequently.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Businesspeople always dress well, very chic and in the latest styles. They pay a lot of attention to the brand names that they wear(i.e. Armani). Women wear a lot of makeup.
There are never exact times for meetings. If a meeting is set for sometime between 2:00–2:30 pm, people will likely arrive around 2:30–3:00 pm or later. Moroccans are often late for meetings. Do not hesitate to call your meeting 30 minutes before the actual time and insist that people come on time. This way everyone will arrive only 15 minutes late. In general, Moroccans respect foreigners a lot (and Canadians even more so) and are impressed by you, particularly if you have a degree. Therefore, try to maintain this impression and try not to succumb to Moroccan charm and kindness as they may take advantage of you and be difficult to deal with.
Moroccans like to take their time at work and a file that should require three hours of work may easily take up an entire day. Thus, if you are a supervisor, do not hesitate to set deadlines and follow up with people as much as possible. Generally, women work more than men do.
In order to be respected, it is important for women to not dress lightly. I would say that sobriety or modesty is key regarding dress code.
It is best to not be too informal; use the formal form of "you" ("vous" in French) when speaking and call people by their last names. Once you know each other better the rules will not be as strict, nor will relations be as formal. However, since Moroccans are very polite and reserved, things may still remain somewhat formal since that is how Moroccans are raised. It is appropriate to use the formal form of "you" with superiors and foreigners.
Preferred managerial qualities
Moroccans greatly value education as well as people’s status in society and in their company (i.e., if you are a vice president, the son of the director of a certain bank, or the wife of the president of a certain company). This type of status alone will help you gain respect and will be reinforced by leadership, the ability to make people do what you want them to and do it well and on time. You should analyse your employees’ and colleagues’ excuses for handing in work late or asking for a sick day or salary advance because they will not always be telling the truth.
You should indirectly consult a third person in order to know what your staff thinks of you.
People are often hired because of the contacts they have. As a result, talent and skill are often secondary considerations.
It does, however, make a difference if the manager is not from the area. In certain cases, this may be an advantage for the organization since Moroccans are less likely to insist that an expatriate give them special favours.
Some Moroccans may question the presence of expatriates, asking whether they take more than they give from the situation. Since there are many highly educated Moroccans, it is easy to feel uncomfortable with the situation at times.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Normally, the person in charge makes decisions and tells people what to do. Giving your opinion or talking about a decision is also acceptable and may be well viewed by your colleagues. Do not let your superior know that he is not right and his decision is not a good one, but do justify your point of view.
Should you need a response, it is perfectly acceptable to go to your direct supervisor, but first ask your colleagues.
In my experience, the most common style of leadership in the workplace is rather authoritarian and autocratic. Bosses make decisions on their own and do not consult other people. Employee participation is limited and they are not often asked for their opinions. Moreover, innovation and creativity are not very well developed characteristics. Morocco is a very traditional country where people’s education does not necessarily help develop this kind of behaviour. Authority must be obeyed.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Sexual equality does not exist when it comes to salaries. Women still need to defend this concept and must put up a fight to have their voices heard. In large companies, this is not such an issue and women are treated as equals.
Homosexuals are not well regarded and are often marginalised.
More than 90% of Moroccans are Muslim and the rest are Jewish. There are devout Muslims who never miss a prayer session and wear veils (if they are female) and there are non-practising Muslims who drink alcohol and do not strictly follow all the tenants of the religion.
There are the rich, the poor and a very small middle class. Social class is very important in Morocco and you will be respected and even feared if you are wealthy or happen to be the son of someone who has powerful position in the government. Social class can affect the hiring process; it is difficult to not give a good position to someone who comes from an elite family or whose father is mayor of the city. People are often hired through networking and even through deals made under the table.
Moroccans living in the centre and north are Arabs while those in the south are Berbers and have a different dialect. In order to see the difference between the two types of Arabic, watch the news on television as both Arabic and Berber versions are broadcast. Both ethnic groups are often the topic of jokes and anecdotes.
Women’s rights is a very important issue in Morocco. On one hand, modern day Moroccans demand the same rights as Europeans; on the other hand, religious fundamentalists want to preserve women’s traditional, submissive roles.
Moroccans do not have a say in being Muslim (they are required by law), but Islam is practised in many different ways. Some people strictly adhere to tenets of Islam while others have very flexible interpretations. People who are not devout cannot publicly announce their lack of faith since is it unacceptable and is cause for them to be arrested. Individuals may speak about their lack of faith in private with people whom they trust. Religion does not affect work except at the one time of the year when all Moroccans must observe Ramadan, which means they may be quite tired. This, in turn, affects productivity. During this period, it is proper to respect devout people who are fasting. Smoking, drinking, or eating in public or on public transportation may provoke a very negative reaction from others.
Moroccan society is extremely hierarchical. For generations, certain parts of the population have received privileges and this has tainted relations between Moroccans. People living in rural areas are often scorned.
People with dark-coloured skin (who may be descendants of slaves) and Berbers are often considered second-class citizens. The Berber element is very important in Morocco. In many parts of the country, the majority of the people are not of Arab origin. Generally, they are not as highly educated since they live in rural areas and, compared to the Arab population, they do not have as many services at their disposition.
In the workplace, you may notice that employees of a higher class may disrespect those of a lower class.
This varies from one person to the next, but do take note of the following points:
- Ask yourself if people want to be your friend in order to take advantage of you or if they are simply looking for friendship;
- Take trust into account also as Moroccans do not trust others easily and will weigh the advantages first, so be wary;
- Foreigners are well viewed and often Moroccans will be more up-front with a foreigner than with other Moroccans. In this case, things work to your advantage.
As a general rule, it is natural to show your interest in someone by asking about their health or family, or about friends you have in common before getting to the heart of the matter. Otherwise you may upset the person with whom you are speaking. It is customary to not begin a conversation by jumping directly to the subject of interest.
When doing business in Morocco, I would say that it is important to establish personal relations since everything is settled through networks of contacts. People tend to try and personalize their relations (at least with people who might be of future assistance) perhaps because social security is virtually non-existent (no unemployment assurance and an underdeveloped health system) and you never know when friends may come in handy. Therefore, generally, when someone helps you out, it is understood that you will return the favour, should the tables ever turn.
Privileges and favouritism
Friendships with colleagues certainly means that they will ask you for privileges more often, but it is up to you to control the situation. You will be friends forever and will not have any problems if you say "no" the first time they ask. That being said, hiring a friend’s brother because he is very competent and suits your needs is not a privilege, but a good decision. The situation is more complicated when your supervisor asks you for a favour. Although it does depend on the type of person he/she is, some 5% of supervisors will take either a positive or negative response well, while others will not look upon a rejection so kindly.
Yes, this is quite possible as Moroccans believe that one good turn deserves another. (Refer to question 5)
Conflicts in the workplace
Confront the individual in a café in private or during a religious festival as people will want to keep the peace and enjoy the good times, which will help you settle everything in a friendly manner. However, you may need to be more assertive if you expect the person to be somewhat hostile as he/she may deny that the problem really does exist. However, generally, women are easier to approach than men. If the situation becomes serious, do not hesitate to talk to your supervisor.
In my experience, I would say that confronting someone either in public or private is a poor choice. It is best to find someone who can act as an intermediary or who will let you know if the other person is having problems with you. Moroccans do not like to discuss things in a very direct manner. For example, if you have people over to eat, they will not express how much they enjoyed the meal when they leave, but they will tell other acquaintances you have in common who will let you know.
Motivating local colleagues
Money is the primary motivation for producing good work while recognition and good working conditions play secondary roles. Do not hesitate to tell your employee in front of the entire office that he/she is doing good work.
I would say that people are motivated by the same things that motivate Canadians.
Recommended books, films & foods
The author TAHER BEN JELOUN is known worldwide and his works highly esteemed. The most realistic television series are in Arabic and the rest of the shows are either American or European or films.
Internet links about Morocco include the following: www.maroc.net and www.morocco.com.
The Routard and Michelin guides cover the main activities and cultural sites very well. We used these two manuals, which complement one another nicely, during our two years abroad.
I would suggest the following: the film Ali Zawa, the magazine Femmes du Maroc, the book Notre ami le roi written by Gilles Perreault.
Food - Typical dishes include couscous, tagine, and pastilla which has a unique, sweet and salty taste. Moroccan food is very fattening and if you are a guest, people will not stop telling you to "eat, eat" as this shows that you are well liked and is part of being a good host. Do not eat your fill right away since Moroccan meals include between two to seven dishes. Not all of the food is placed on the table at the same time; one dish is served and the table is cleared before moving on to another course. Therefore, keep this in mind, accept second helpings, say thank you, and eat only until you are no longer hungry, do not push yourself. In order to avoid unwanted surprises, ask if the dishes are spicy or mild.
Newspapers include Le Matin du Sahara and L’Opinion. The best place to learn more about the culture is in cafes; however, if you’re prone to illness, choose your café or restaurant wisely.
Soccer games between friends, neighbours or colleagues are constantly being organized on the weekends. This is a good way to get to know people and to find out answers to many questions you may have. Colleagues, in addition to giving you advice, may assist you in learning about more cultural aspects.
Be careful of becoming a victim of theft in crowded public areas. Always barter for products before purchasing anything and bring the prices down by even 50%. Do not go alone to buy things; bring someone you trust with you. Check carefully the quality of the products you buy such as cloth, leather or other materials. There are many organized tours of the beautiful mosques and historical sites, which you should visit.
Morocco’s indigenous people have been in close contact with the great Mediterranean civilizations for thousands of years. Until the 4th Century, there were Roman villages all around central and northern Morocco. You should definitely visit the ruins of the cities of Lixus (on the Atlantic coast) and Volubilis (central-northern area). There are similarities between traditional Berber handicrafts and Roman art.
Islam is undoubtedly a major factor in Moroccan everyday life. From the time of Moulay Idriss to the present, it has profoundly affected the structure Moroccan society and continues to do so. Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter mosques, with the exception of the one in Casa (known as the "grand Mosquée de Casa"). If you are not aware of this rule, you may be told rather forcefully that you are not allowed on the premises.
Mohamed V, the former king of Morocco who liberated the country is the national hero.
National heroes would include the following individuals: Moulay Idriss (founder of the first Muslim state in Morocco), Tarik Ibn Ziad (lead the invasion of Spain), Mohammed V (fought against the French occupation and led the way to independence). Two figures who played a very important role in the recent history of Moroccan civil society are Ben Barka, who opposed Hassan II’s regime and was assassinated in the 1960s and Abraham Serfaty, a political opponent who was allowed back in the country in 2000.
Shared historical events with Canada
Not to my knowledge.
Canada has opened its borders to Moroccan immigrants, which may have unpleasant consequences for Canadian nationals since many Moroccans seek to immigrate and may try to create relationships with people who may be able to help them. They may ask your advice on how to get a visa and these questions can become tiring.
Canadians often believe that Moroccan women are very repressed and poorly treated. This is not true and it will surprise you to learn that they are quite liberated and very modern.
I cannot think of anything in particular.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter, the eldest of five children, was born in 1976. She grew up in the city of Meknes and studied marketing at the ISIAM in Agadir. Her studies took her abroad for the first time in 1998 and for the past three years she has lived in Repentigny where she works in the field of marketing. She is married and has no children.
Your cultural interpreter was born in 1961, the fifth of six children. He grew up in the city and studied Agro-Economics at McGill University in Montreal. His work and studies took him abroad for the first time to northern Cameroon, where he lived for two years. Subsequently, he lived in Morocco for two years and has now returned to Canada. He has been living in Montréal for the past one and a half years, where he works in international cooperation. He is married and has two children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.