I’m a pure-bred, born and raised Northern American. I say “pop” instead of soda, my skin is as white as the Michigan snow, and when I took piano lessons as I child, I learned at least three patriotic songs. I am an American girl, and before I hopped a flight to Meknes, Morocco for an entire summer, I didn’t know what it meant to be anyone else. While studying abroad has so far not changed who I am at my core, it has taught me things about myself that I never even considered before. After all, who spends time thinking about how they eat or who they smile at on the street? That being said, I would like to share with you seven habits I had in the United States that I lost when I came to Morocco. If you end up swinging by this amazing nation, you will probably find yourself dropping them as well.
1. Dressing for the Weather
Summer is my least favorite season because American “summer clothes” are less fabric than I am comfortable with – I hate when my legs show! Despite that, I always wore summery clothing in June, July, and August when we had Michigan summers, because I did not want to be too hot outside in the sun! Here in Morocco, dressing for the weather means something entirely different. From my observation, when Moroccans dress for summer, they look the same as they did in the spring, but their clothing is probably made out of lighter materials. While Moroccans and tourists CAN wear whatever they like, modesty is the standard. Many of my study abroad peers feel more comfortable wearing clothing that helps them blend in to the crowd. In Morocco, this means long, flowing pants and loose shirts that cover your shoulders and, oftentimes, most of your arm. Moroccan summer fashion is definitely not about dressing for the weather – for my peers and myself it’s all about dressing for comfort on the streets. While we are sweating buckets under our long skirts and loose three-quarter sleeve shirts, we are able to walk more comfortably around our city without drawing side-glances with our shockingly pale American legs, fresh out of winter hibernation.
2. Shaving Every Day
Let’s be honest, one of the only good parts about freezing cold winters is not having to shave nearly as often. Since summer clothing in Morocco still covers most of your skin, it might as well be winter for your legs! Ladies and gents, you can let the razors relax for a little bit longer. Although it is a personal decision whether or not to shave, I’d definitely recommend bringing those razors back from retirement when you want to go to the beach. But any other time? Why bother?! Save fifteen minutes in the shower and take the country by storm.
3. Using Crosswalks
Crosswalks? Pshk. Crosswalks are for tourists. If you want to feel like a real Moroccan, you will learn how to jaywalk like a professional. Busy streets? No problem. Several lanes? Sweet, more of a challenge. Crossing the streets in Morocco feels a whole lot like playing Frogger. At first it’s scary and overwhelming, but very quickly it just makes sense, feels normal, and seems obviously superior to waiting at a crosswalk when HELLO, THERE IS A GAP BETWEEN CARS YOU CAN EASILY WALK THROUGH! Plus, there aren’t really many crosswalks in Morocco, anyways. Don’t worry. You’ll learn quickly.
4. Smiling at Strangers
I have always been a friendly but reserved person who gave small smiles to people on the streets when we made eye contact. My two-year long position as a Resident Advisor at Bowling Green State University amplified that natural instinct to connect, and on any given day in the United States you can find me asking the person behind me in line how they are, or saying an exuberant hello to a stranger passing by on the street. I exist in this universe no longer. In Morocco, if you make eye contact and smile at someone, it does not mean you’re being friendly. It means you want to be friends. It means “come talk to me!” It’s a great experience getting to know the locals, but don’t just go around smiling at people for no reason. Weirdo.
5. Only Wearing Sunscreen to Go to the Beach
Aw man. It is time for me to pull out a pulpit and get my preach on. Growing up, I was never the girl to sunburn. I could stay out in the sun for hours and be just fine. Now I’m an “adult” and have to face the harsh reality that my skin is not on my side anymore. Not only did I get the worst sunburn of my life at the beach, I have gotten sunburns just from walking around the city! If you’re like me and you think “nah, I don’t need sunscreen, I’m only going to be outside for a little while,” rewind and rethink your decisions. Seriously. The sun shines down hard here in the Maghreb – take care of your body. Reapply sunscreen more than once at the beach. Don’t end up Fifty Shades of Tomato, like I did. It’s not cool.
6. Eating with Utensils
I do not like when my hands are dirty. Not even a little bit. I will skewer my buttery dinner roll with a fork and eat it like an ice cream cone to avoid getting my hands all greasy. I’m sure you can imagine, then, how much of a culture shock it was for me the first night I sat down to eat dinner with my host family and everyone started digging in with their hands. Eating is a communal thing here in Morocco. The whole family and any guests that may be visiting gather around the table where the meal is laid out on a huge dish in the middle of the table. Everyone eats out of that one big dish with their hands and you eat the food that is in your sector of the plate. The most interesting part of this is that, at least in my family, utensils are swapped out with bread. To avoid sticking their hands directly into a big bowl of beans, you tear off a piece of homemade bread and use it to scoop/smush food into your thumb to keep it from falling on the way to your mouth. I really don’t know how to describe it… probably because I’m still really bad at it… but I am amazed by how successfully the members of my host family navigate the bread-as-utensil thing. I may get my hands dirty, along with my shirt, my clothes, and the whole length of table between me and the bowl, but it is a really cool experience to sit and eat at the table with the family. It gives off a sense of “Come and join. For you there is always enough.”
7. Saying No
This is the greatest change I have gone through since arriving in Morocco. Before I got on my first plane ever in Toronto, I liked being comfortable. I liked habits, I liked to play by the rules, and I liked to be safe. But when you travel to Morocco, or any foreign country, honestly, you are cheating yourself if you only stick to what you know, understand, and feel comfortable with. On the ride from where my plane landed in Casablanca to my home city of Meknes, our bus pulled over at a rest stop to use the bathroom, buy some snacks, etc. In the bathroom, there were two options. You could use a standard toilet, like what you’d see in the United States, or you could use a more traditional “squatty-potty.” I don’t know what they are actually called, but basically they are porcelain floor toilets where there are ribbed places to keep your feet from slipping on each side of the toilet, and the porcelain floor thing tilts down towards a literal hole in the ground. You squat, do your thing, fill the bucket in the stall with water from the thoughtfully included water spigot, and rinse off the squatty potty. I would never have made that choice in the United States. But here, I decided, “what the heck.” After all, where else might you have the opportunity to use a squatty potty? It was way more complicated than I expected, and definitely more awkward than the toilets I am used to, but I did it! And the “what the heck” philosophy has continued ever since. Climb over tall cliff-side ocean rocks when the high tide comes in to get to a cool cave on the other side? Sweet, sounds dangerous but why not! Eat a full tablespoon of dry ground cumin because your host mother says it will get rid of your stomach bug? Might as well! Seriously, why would you leave your own country just to go to another one and do as you have always done? When you travel to Morocco, or anywhere else, drop the no. Try new things, get uncomfortable, and live out stories and adventures that you can laugh about for years to come. You’re in Morocco. Join in!
The world awaits…discover it.