Monday, April 12, 2010

Five Moroccan Faux Pas

There are certain things that are just culturally inappropriate.  Things you don't do if you want to fit into society and not be considered rude.  Or worse yet, gross.  We Americans like our lives to be hygienic and sanitized and we put our money were our mouth is. We spend billions each year on mouth wash, cleaners, hand sanitizers, tissues, deodorant, air fresheners and vacuum cleaners.  And I didn't even mention douches.  We'll buy anything that claims to purify the filth that comes with being human.  Especially if it comes in the fragrance of fresh cotton.  Maybe one day all these products will help clean up our image of being lazy Americans. Until then, we remain a country that really likes lists.  

So without further adieu, here is a list of the  top five Moroccan faux pas: 

1.  Inappropriate Itching and Readjusting
In America, you can scratch your arm, your leg and your ear in public.  But, we get uncomfortable if we see someone's finger getting too close to their nostrils.  If someone is scratching their head, we'll be forced to contemplate whether you have dandruff or lice.   Of course, it's strictly taboo to touch yourself anywhere your bathing suit covers in public at anytime. Every American instinctively knows and follows this unwritten social code. Not so in Morocco.  The need to scratch, or readjust your junk so it's hanging on your preferred side is equivalent to blinking.  So, Moroccans don’t blink when at doing it in public.  

2.  Loogies and Snot Rockets  
There is a very curious phenomenon in Rabat.  On almost every city intersection there is someone trying to sell you a box of tissue.  The thing is, you never see anyone blow their nose with one. They are used as napkins or paper towels.   Let me just say it’s completely stupid to try to dry your hands on a kleenex because it pills and you end up with it all over your hands and you still resort you wiping your hands on your pants.  Thus, defeating the entire purpose.  When you need to blow your nose, you simply snot rocket your loogie onto the sidewalk.  Where it’s also acceptable to hack up and spit out your loogies.  So, watch your step.     

3.  Belching and farting  
Have you ever been by yourself, burped and excused yourself out loud? I have, in fact excused myself from myself many a time.  That's how ingrained it is in our culture to apologize for our natural bodily functions.  The majority of the rest of the world doesn't see it that way, however.  Or smell it that way either.  So while I'm trying to drill it into my kids heads not let it rip in public, the public is ripping away.  And they're corrupting my kids ideas of proper social etiquette when they do.  We do have to return to America one day after all.  

4.  B.O. and bad breath
You are what you eat.  Or at least you smell like what you eat.  Because so often it stays on your breath.  Especially in Morocco where the cuisine is very onion, garlic, cumin-centric.  And that dental hygiene is not a matter of national pride like it is in America.  Not only do the foods you eat stay on your breath, they also seep out your pores. Apparently, deodorant isn't all that pivotal here socially either.   Even in the sweltering days of summer when things get really funky.  Extremely funky.  Which is only exacerbated by #5 on the list.
5.  Crowding and Cutting

While these aren't the grossest on the list, they are probably the most infuriating to foreigners. In the West we have this notion of personal space like there’s an invisible bubble surrounding and protecting us.  I mistakenly thought this concept was standard issue elsewhere in the world.  It’s not.  So there is no buffer from bumping, brushing, knocking or being all up in one's space. The social smack down glare used to counteract it is also a foreign concept by the way.  So it doesn’t work.   Oh, cutting the line here is the norm, not the exception.  Luckily,  a firm "la" (“no” in Arabic) with a Jerry Springer guest finger wave works to counter that one.  Just don't use your middle finger.

  You may have realized there are more than 5 social faux pas because I doubled up.  So there are actually 10, because I’m American and just too damn lazy to list them individually.

*Insert fragrance of fresh cotton here.* 

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