مرحابة mrehba (“Welcome” in Moroccan Arabic”)
When you think of Morocco, you might picture a desert land with camels, or maybe you imagine the beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean see. Perhaps the ancient ruins and astounding architecture comes to mind. If you’re a movie buff, you might think of classic film Casablanca. Morocco has all of these claims to fame, but the country also has growing businesses and one of the top economies in Africa. The top industry is the service sector, including mining, construction and manufacturing, and the country is growing in tourism, telecoms, information, and textiles.
Before you convince your boss to let you take a business trip to this beautiful, exotic country, let’s find out how Moroccans do business.
- Morocco located on the northwest corner of Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, along with Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar, Algeria, and Western Sahara.
- The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber. The Moroccan Arabic dialect is spoken by almost 90% of the population, but both languages are widely spoken.
- French and Spanish are recognized minority languages, with French being mandatory in schools and spoken in government and business settings.
- Morocco has a population of almost 34 million people. The capital is Rabat, but the largest city is Casablanca.
- The majority religion in Islam, both Sunni and Shia, while Judaism, Christianity and Baha’i are also present in the region.
- Appearance is important in Morocco. You want to look professional and well-dressed, but not flashy, as it may come off as ostentatious.
- Meetings are formal, wear dark, conservative colors. Men should wear a business suit and tie. Women should wear a business suit, dress pants and a jacket, or a dress that covers the knees and arms.
- Shine your shoes and iron your clothes before a meeting. Wear well-made clothing that is in good condition: no wrinkles or visible stains.
- Don’t wear expensive looking watches or jewelry, as you don’t want to be considered showing off.
MAKE OR BREAK MEETINGS
- Scheduling is important in the culture. You should make an appointment for the meeting early and confirm a day or two before the meeting. Be punctual and well prepared for meetings.
- Keep in mind religious events when scheduling meetings. Avoid Friday meetings as this is a holy day for Muslims, and many companies close for prayer. Also, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan.
- French is the language of business in Morocco, but English is also sometimes used. Your colleagues will also probably speak Arabic, Berber, or Spanish. Make sure you know what language the meeting will be conducted in, and hire an interpreter or translator if necessary.
- When meeting, shake hands with colleagues of your sex. A man should only shake hands with a woman if she initiates it, otherwise, bow your head politely. When leaving, say goodbye to each person individually.
- Moroccans have an open door policy, so the meeting may be interrupted. Try to respect their policy and not rush them or divert the conversation back to your topic. Be patient and keep in mind the relationship-based culture of Morocco. You can prepare for these interruptions by allowing extra time when scheduling the meeting.
- Food is served from a communal bowl at a knee-high table and the guest of honor is seated next to the host. Take the food in front of you (do not reach across to the other side of the bowl) by scooping it onto a piece of bread.
- Moroccans eat with their right hand. The left hand is considered unclean in many cultures. Eat and drink only with your right hand.
- At the beginning and end of the meal, a washing basin will be brought to the table and the water poured over your hands (do not dip them in the water). There will be a towel provided, do not wipe your hands on your napkin at all during the meal.
- Make sure you know exactly who in your party is invited. Cultural and religious customs may prohibit men and women eating together.
- Dress formally for a meal. If dining at someone’s home, make sure to remove your shoes at the door.
GIVING AND GETTING GIFTS
- If you are invited to your colleague’s home for a meal, it is appropriate to bring a small gift such as flowers, sweet pastries or nuts. Do not bring alcohol unless you know that your host and others present drink.
- A small gift for children is considered affectionate, which may be helpful in building a close relationship with your colleagues.
- Gifts are not opened until after everyone leaves.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
- Moroccans want to build a close relationship and have a long term business partner. Get to know your Moroccan colleagues and take time to tell them about yourself. Networking is important and you will make more business connections this way.
- Hshuma is the concept of shame. Moroccans are very aware of themselves and do not like to be embarrassed or shamed. They will go out of their way to save themselves from this, as some societies will ostracize one that is shamed. Do not embarrass your colleagues or point out a fault or mistake.
- Because of Hshuma, your colleague may agree in front of others, so as not to embarrass themselves or you, even if they have no intention of following through.
- Moroccans like to negotiate and haggle. They take a long time to make decisions, and even then, your final offer may not be final—even after a contract is signed.
Now that you’re ready for that camel ride in Morocco, stay tuned for the next Business Etiquette blurb!
لله يمسك علي خير lla yemsek 'la khir ("Goodbye" in Moroccan Arabic)