As a Muslim country, albeit a moderate one, Morocco is very different to the United Kingdom. And yet, despite what you might read in the tabloid newspapers, the Muslim faith is a peaceful religion, steeped in hospitality, compassion, and tolerance.
So, for example, while alcohol isn’t widely available, you can buy it at most major supermarkets and are free to drink it in the solitude of the desert without fear of recrimination. A lot of tourist hotels will serve it too, sometimes in a separate bar and sometimes in the main bar. But, common sense needs to be applied, and if you are straying off the usual tourist routes, then discretion is the better part of valour; there’s no harm in asking if they serve alcohol, but if they say no and don’t go on to say that you may drink your own (and many will), then you have to resign yourself to an evening drinking mint tea!
Similarly, while female tourists can wear what they like in central Marrakesh, it would be advisable for them to cover their legs and arms in more remote, rural areas. No harm will come if you don’t, but it is respectful to do so and your welcome will be all the more warm for your understanding.
In the same way, the police and military control points are there as much for your safety as anything else, but a little respect and consideration goes a long way. So, take your sunglasses off, turn off your engine, and step out of your vehicle with your passport and fiche in your hand, and smile. Most, but not all, will have a smattering of English, but a smile and gestures will get you a long way.
If you smoke, offering a cigarette is polite and will generally be taken, and if you want to give them a gift, then asking if they have children and giving them chocolate for the children will take away any awkwardness or suggestion that you are trying to bribe them. Moroccans are proud, but poor, and rubbing their noses in your wealth is not a pleasant way to behave…
Your personal paperwork comprises your passport and a document called a fiche. A fiche is merely a slip of paper with your personal details on it; you can pre-complete most of it ahead of time and then the rest can be filled in on the ferry over from Tarifa to morocco.
You’ll need around 20 of them - and we will send you a link in plenty of time, but the impatient can get them here - to hand over to police and military personnel at the various checkpoints you’ll encounter. The fiche saves a lot of writing on their behalf, and means that you’re likely to get on your much more quickly than without them, so they’re worth their weight in gold. Some hotels accept them too, which again speeds things up and means you get to your evening drink more quickly!
You will also need a slip of paper to get in and out of the country. Again, we will talk you through this in plenty of time, so there’s nothing to worry about.
The requirements for vehicle paperwork have recently been streamlined, but you will need your original V5 Vehicle Registration document, plus the original Green card insurance document in addition to your usual insurance paperwork. The same goes for the MOT certificate if your vehicle requires one in the United Kingdom.
Take three high-quality colour photocopies of these too, in addition to photocopies of your passport. Leave one set at home with a trusted friend or family member, and take two with you. You should keep them handy in a secure folder in your vehicle, as you’ll need them almost every day.
It’s also worth photographing them all so you have copies of everything on your smartphone.
While English is spoken by many in the main tourist areas of Morocco, French and various Arabic dialects are exclusively spoken everywhere else.
If your schoolboy and -girl French lets you down, a smile and hand gestures will usually get you what you need. And remember: if you start a conversation with a smile and a Bonjour, or salaam a eleikum (hello/peace be with you) then you are starting off on the right foot.
Some other common phrases are:
Thank you - Shokran (pronounced ‘shukran’)
No thank you - La shokran (pronounced ‘la shukran’)
Please - Lah ihefdak" (may god protect you, pronounced ‘lay hefdak’)
No = La
Yes = Naam
In addition, you will hear In’shallah (God willing) a lot.
If you are invited into someone’s home or tent, then take your shoes off.
While being offered a cup of mint tea is just politeness on the part of the Moroccan, anything more, like a meal or a lift, really demands a gift or a small sum of money as a gesture of appreciation on your behalf. There are approximately 10 Moroccan Dirhams to a British Pound, and 10D is a useful general tip. If someone offers to look after your vehicles in the hotel car-park, then a small contribution if often welcome.
If you are eating from a communal bowl, then do not use your left hand. In fact, if you can, eating with only your right hand will endear you to them. They will forgive you if you use your left hand to eat with because you are an ignorant Christian, but it’s nice to make an effort, isn’t it?
Do not take photographs of military or police installations, buildings, or personnel.
The use of drones is forbidden without a licence, which is hard to get. UK nationals have been arrested, fined, and had their drones and passports confiscated for ignoring this rule.
You should avoid public displays of affection, especially between same-sex couples; homosexuality is illegal in Morocco.
Sex outside of marriage is forbidden, and you may be asked for proof of marriage before being given a double room. We’ve never had this happen, but have heard of instances where the hotelier has insisted on separate rooms where a marriage certificate hasn’t been shown.
If asked, it’s better to claim some religious faith than none at all. There’s no need to lie, but conjuring up childhood memories of your local church services will help even the most hardened of atheists bluff their way through a conversation that has taken a religious turn.
Arguing because you don’t understand or agree with a situation or decision is unlikely to improve the situation. We are visitors and local rules must take primacy over our own.