I figured I was probably one of the luckiest solo travelers on earth. As I got off the plane, I knew that, Inshe'Allah*, I had a Moroccan travel buddy and Couchsurfer awaiting my arrival. Not only was he willing to come all the way from his home in the Middle Atlas mountains to meet me, but he was an experienced host and traveler who was well aware of the cultural differences between Moroccans and Americans.
Thank goodness — Rachid was there to greet me! I got about half a greeting (two air kisses on the cheek, instead of four), probably because he was a bit shy about this first meeting, and then we were off. I knew I would be saved from much awkwardness by his willingness to be a buffer between me and the cultures with which I'd come to acquaint myself. I didn't expect the first lesson to be at hostel check-in, however.
*"God willing," spelled Moroccan style; another common spelling is "Insha'Allah."
My Lonely Planet guide, looking lonely.
After taking a bus into town and catching a whiff of a street-facing corner of Djemma el-Fna that was apparently frequented by horses who drink a lot of water (ahem), taking in the neon lights and pop music on one of the main pedestrian walkways, then turning down a narrow, unmarked alley, we arrived at Hotel Hilal.
"Nice!" I thought. "All the mattresses were killed and dried in a humane way!"
(Note: although this was not yet Lesson No. 1, I had already made a mental misstep. Halal is to Arabic what kosher is to Hebrew. Hilal, in this case, was either an Arabic name or a reference to the crescent moon. Silly moi!)
I spied some of the folks I'd sat with on the plane also checking the place out, so I knew Rachid had not brought me here to kill and eat me, whew! He expressed his disappointment with the fact that the usual check-in guy was not at the desk. Still, after a brief exchange, Unfamiliar Check-in Guy handed him a set of keys for me and we headed upstairs. Rachid did not like the room, as it was tiny and had no windows, but I was ok with it. I was just glad it wasn't a dorm-style hostel room, as I relish my privacy. We spent a few minutes checking the door lock and locating the toilet, then Rachid headed back downstairs to secure a room for himself. All in all, we'd been upstairs together for about 5 minutes.
I unpacked a few things, finally remembered how to use a squat toilet (called "Turkish toilets" in Morocco), freshened up a bit, then headed downstairs to see if I could locate Rachid. He was still talking to Unfamiliar Check-in Guy in Arabic and did not seem pleased. The guy would not give Rachid a room because he'd arrived with me.
Apparently, there is no such thing as friendship between men and women in Morocco. You either ignore each other, are related to one another, or you're boinking. In the mind of Unfamiliar Check-in guy, the five minutes we had spent upstairs could only mean one thing: sexy time.
Five minutes, dude? Really? Pfft, give me more credit than that! I may be from a flesh-exposing, materialistic nation with a penchant for inflicting fast food chains on every country we contact, but I do have my standards! (Not to mention my husband.)
After a look of disbelief from me, which may or may not have helped his cause, and at Rachid's request, I went back upstairs to let him handle it. He eventually did get a room there, but had to pay a higher rate than I did. It was due, in part, to the fact that the room was dorm style with 3 beds. Rachid was the only guest in the room because it's illegal for Moroccans to mix with foreigners. But that's a lesson in cultural differences for another time.
In the meantime, enjoy this nice picture of the first mint tea I had in Morocco, taken while sitting on a terrace overlooking Djemma el-Fna.
Mmminty mint tea!
What are some of the surprising cultural differences you've encountered?