After being in the pristine and stunning countries of Germany, Austria, and Sweden, it was hard to adjust to life in a large, over populated, dusty, smelly city. I hate to admit it, but that really is my general opinion of Casablanca. Sure, it has some nice qualities, like beautiful beaches and the wealthy French Quarter, but in general my advice is that if you want to visit Morocco, skip Casablanca and try Marrakesh instead. I was there just long enough to learn some things about the culture, and here are 8 culture observations from an American visiting Casablanca, Morocco.
There is a heavy French influence in Casablanca that dates back to its history in the early 1900s. In fact, I think more people speak French than Arabic, at least in the area I was in. Street signs and marketing are mostly in Arabic, but everywhere you go people say “bonjour” or other common French phrases.
Prayer chanting throughout the city
Despite the heavy French influence, Morocco is still about 99 percent Muslim. Prayer chanting is amplified throughout the streets very loudly, beginning at 5:00 AM and ending at 8:00 PM. I never appreciated waking up to the sound of it. Giant fake palm trees are erected throughout the city with speakers at the top for this very purpose. Even with earplugs in I could still hear it, and it’s a very eerie sound.
Locals don’t like their picture taken
When I was India, I noticed that for the most part, Indians love their picture taken. When I would go to take a picture in India, people would jump in the way of the camera. The opposite was true in Casablanca. I had many people yell at me, and one guy even threw things at me, for taking photos. I’m not sure if it a Muslim thing or what makes them get so agitated about it, but I quickly learned to click and run!
Much like India, the people of Morocco are mostly night owls. They awake around 9:00, and many businesses close down for a couple hours in the early afternoon. Most people don’t go to bed until around midnight. I had to keep my widows open for air flow and it was always loud until around 1:00 AM. I could even still hear children playing until that late.
Not the friendliest people
In general, I didn’t find the Moroccan people very friendly. Perhaps it was religious differences, cultural differences, or political things (like our current administration), but whatever it was I did not feel particularly welcome. I’ve been in some other mostly Muslim areas, like Malaysia and Dubai where the people were extremely friendly, but unfortunately that just was not my experience in Casablanca.
Hot and dusty
Casablanca is mostly desert like, and thus very dusty. Temperatures were in the low 90s while I was there (mid-August). Often, there was a gentle breeze, but without air conditioning, it was still too hot for me. Everything was covered in dust. I got a bad respiratory infection while I was there and I’m sure the dusty environment didn’t help my condition any. The apartments there have roller cage doors on the windows (like a garage door in America) that people pull down at night. I don’t know if it is for security or comfort, but I chose to keep my windows open and the rolling door up in order to cool the place down.
I did my best to dress appropriately while I was there. Western women are not expected to wear a head scarf, but it’s wise to cover your shoulders and knees. However, regardless of what I wore, I always felt like I was being stared at, or even worse, glared at. Men were constantly calling out to me or slowing down in their cars. I don’t know what they were saying, and maybe it’s a good thing, but it was very intimidating. Because of my travels, I know not to react and to not make eye contact. Muslims see eye contact as a form of flirtation. So, you must just keep walking and try to stay calm.
Men lounging about everywhere
Everywhere men are lounging about in groups. All the restaurants were full of men playing cards or sipping coffee. I seldom saw any women relaxing, unless they were western women on holiday. As a result, it was uncomfortable to go into these places for refreshment because of the unwanted attention and feeling so out of place.
I hate to say it, but I didn’t have a good Casablanca experience at all. Originally, I had planned to stay for three weeks, but as soon as I was well enough to leave, I did exactly that. If you read my blogs on a regular basis, you know that I seldom have anything negative to say about places, so this is a real exception. I just feel compelled to speak the truth and share my honest experience.