How to Meet and Greet in Moroccan Culture

Djemaa El Fna Square at dusk, Marrakech, Morocco
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Moroccan Culture Series

In Arabic-speaking countries, there is great importance placed on extended greetings, both in written communication and in face-to-face interaction. I never learned enough Darija to read letters, but Morocco is certainly no exception as far as face-to-face greetings are concerned.

Pleasantries

When Moroccans see someone they know, it is impolite to just say "hi" and keep walking.

At the very least they have to stop in order to shake hands and ask Ça va ? and/or La bas? Always with friends and sometimes with acquaintances (shopkeepers, etc.), Moroccans will phrase this question several different ways, often in both French and Arabic, and then ask about the other person's family, children, and health.

This exchange of pleasantries tends to be continuous - the questions are strung together without really waiting for a response to any of them - and automatic. No real thought is put into the questions or answers and both parties are usually talking at the same time. The exchange can last up to 30 or 40 seconds, and ends when one or both parties says Allah hum dililay orbaraqalowfik (sorry for my crude transcriptions of the Arabic).

Hand-shaking

Moroccans are very fond of shaking hands every time they see someone they know or meet someone new. When Moroccans go into work in the morning, they are expected to shake each of their colleagues' hands.

We recently learned that some Moroccans feel that this can be excessive. A Moroccan student of my husband's, who works in a bank, related the following story: A colleague was transferred to a different department on another floor of the bank. When he came into work, however, he felt obliged to go upstairs to his old department and shake hands with each of his former colleagues before going to his new department, shaking the hands of his new colleagues, and only then starting to work, every day.

We have befriended a number of shopkeepers who shake our hands upon both arrival and departure, even if we are only in the shop for a few minutes.

If a Moroccan has full or dirty hands, the other person will grasp his/her wrist instead of the hand.

After shaking hands, touching the right hand to the heart is a sign of respect. This is not limited to one's elders; it is common to see adults touching their hearts after shaking hands with a child. In addition, a person at a distance will usually make eye contact and touch his hand to his heart. I first noticed this when I saw a street vendor from my 4th-floor balcony.

Kissing and Hugging

Bises à la française or hugs are commonly exchanged between same-sex friends. This happens in all venues: at home, on the street, in restaurants, and in business meetings. Same-sex friends usually walk around holding hands, but couples, even married couples, rarely touch in public. Male/female contact in public is strictly limited to hand-shaking.