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Culture Corner

Moroccan Culture

Ramadan
Being in Morocco during Ramadan is a special opportunity to partake in a fundamental aspect of Morocco's Islamic culture. Ramadan is a time of both fasting and feasting. The hunger and thirst that people endure during the daytime engenders compassion toward the less fortunate. After dusk, people will break their fast and celebrate the season with specialty foods and sweets. While non-Muslims are not required to fast during Ramadan, drinking and/or eating in public during this holy month is considered disrespectful. Regardless of religion, eating or drinking in front of people who are hungry and thirsty can be insensitive. People who are sick or traveling are also not required to fast; but in any case it is advisable to eat or drink in private if possible. The end of the month of Ramadan marks Eid al-Kabir (also known as Eid ul-Fitr), one of the most celebrated holidays in the Muslim World.

Gender Relations

Similarly, many (mis)conceptions also exist about gender relations in Muslim countries such as Morocco. The norms regarding relations between women and men in Morocco vary from family to family and even person to person. Relationships between women and men who are immediately related (in Arabic: singular mahram, plural mahaarim) are similar to familial relationships in the United States. However, relationships between women and men who are not related (ghayr mahram) are generally more reserved than in the United States. Women and men who are not related do interact daily with one another on both personal and professional levels, but their interactions are usually more conservative in terms of physical contact. Of course, not all individuals abide by these norms, the basis of which is the sense of modesty common both to Muslim and non-Muslim Moroccans alike.

Dress and Clothing
Many (mis)conceptions exist about the way people dress in Muslim countries such as Morocco. Local law does not require men or women to dress more conservatively than they would in the West; however, doing so is a significant demonstration of one's respect for the local culture and thereby facilitates immersion in the local community. What constitutes conservative dress can vary greatly from city to city or even within different neighborhoods of a city. Generally, in public it is advisable for both men and women not to wear shorts, short skirts, or clothing that exposes the chest or shoulders. These standards are not necessarily Islamic, as Moroccans of other faiths also abide to this sense of modesty.

Monuments and Must-Sees

  • The Medina and Old Mellah (old Jewish Quarter)
  • The Dar Jamaï Museum, a palace built in 1882 for the Jamaï family
  • The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
  • The Heri es-Souani and Agdal Basin, the immense and ingeniously designed granaries of Moulay Ismail
  • The Berber carpet shops and colorful souqs (bazaars) of the Medina
  • The Place el-Hedim
  • Bab el-Mansour and Bab Berdaine, two of many impressive gates to the former imperial city

Cultural Activities

Meknes has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Meknes. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Meknes, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.

Tour of Meknes
During the orientation, ISA staff guide students on a walking tour through the Medina and Ville Nouvelle help orient students to the city geography, history, and culture.

Moroccan Cuisine

Learn what foods to shop for and how to use them to prepare deliciously savory Moroccan meals such as tagine, couscous, and more. Don't feel like cooking? You'll still enjoy Moroccan cuisine as part of the meals provided to you in the program six days a week.

Hammam

For centuries these traditional bathhouses have been a cornerstone of communal life in Muslim societies such as Morocco. Despite the advent of indoor plumbing, the tradition lives strong. When you visit a hammam, you will experience exfoliation like never before. In addition to relaxing steam and an invigorating scrub down, some hammams offer less traditional services such as massage.

Henna Tattoos

A botanical dye, Moroccan women use henna for intricate and beautiful temporary tattoos. After the dye is removed, the pigment pattern remains on the skin for a few weeks.

Arabian Horses
Horseback riding lessons are available on a beautiful farm located in central Meknes.

Mint Tea
Share a pot of traditional, sweet mint tea with locals.

Belly Dancing
Lessons for this traditional dance form (much exoticized in the West) are available in local studios.

Moroccan Music
Similarly, at local studios students can learn to play traditional Moroccan instruments.

Cultural Immersion

Volunteering Opportunities
Internship and service learning opportunities are available to students in Meknes through ELAP, a division of ISA. For more information regarding internship and service learning opportunities, please visit the ELAP website at myelap.com/destinations/morocco

ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features ISA students as bloggers and video correspondents who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through blog posts, videos, photos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger or an ISA Video Correspondent! The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for bloggers and video correspondents.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Meknès, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Morocco is a multilingual country. While Arabic is the official language, diglossia exists in Arabic-speaking societies; in other words, there are always at least two dialects of Arabic in any Arab society. The first dialect is Modern Standard Arabic, the dialect of academia, media, law, and other official or formal functions, and linguistically binds the Arab World. The second is Colloquial Arabic (aka Derija or 'Amiyya), the spoken language which varies from country to country and sometimes even within countries. Additionally, French is a de facto second language in Morocco. Amazigh (Berber) is the first language of many Moroccans.

In the fall and spring semesters, ISA offers a 15-contact-hour Darija (Moroccan dialect) course.

The information below pertains to Moroccan Colloquial and Modern Standard Arabic.

Helpful Moroccan Arabic Phrases

Ssalamu 'lekum - Hello
Bessalama - Goodbye
Shukran (bezzaf) - Thank you (very much)
La shukran 'ala wajb - You're welcome
Wakha - Yes, ok
La - No
Labas? - How are you?
Mafahemtsh - I don't understand
Esmeetek? - What's your name?
Smeetee... - My name is...
Fin kein...? - Where is (the)...?
Bsh'hal? - How much?

On-line Dictionary Resource
wordreference.com

Verb Conjugation
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Arabic.

Listening & Speaking
Check out some different Arabic podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills. A great online audio resource is Aswaat Arabiyya.

Beware of translation websites...much can be lost in translation!