Morocco, a beautiful and strategic country situated in the north-western corner of Africa, has a 1835 km-long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. Morocco has enjoyed developments in cultural and economic prosperity in recent years.
Country specific communication
Moroccan culture is an amalgam of old habits and Islam and the habits of Moroccans are influenced by this religion which was brought by Arabs to Morocco in the 7th century. The first thing to be heard from the 42,000 mosques in Morocco at early sunrise is the ‘Azaan’ (call for the prayer). This will be repeated four times a day. Muslims pray five times a day: at sunrise, midday, afternoon, at sunset and in the evening.
Life continues as normal during prayer time and many people will still be on the streets except from mid-day prayers on Friday when everything is closed for the holy day. A tip for non-Muslims: beaches are usually busy but are quiet and peaceful during the hours of prayer. Muslims fast from dusk to dawn during the holy month of Ramadan when they are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke or have sex. Many companies work to a reduced schedule during this month. Foreigners are not forced to fast, but it is appreciated if they do not eat in public.
Family in Morocco is one of the most important things in life. Older family members are respected. If a Moroccan greets an older member of the family it is usual to kiss their hand. It is usual to greet others in Morocco with a handshake. People well-known to each other such as family or close friends greet each other with a handshake and a kiss on both cheeks, starting with the left cheek. Members of opposite genders do not normally kiss in public.
Spending time on building personal relationships is important prior to doing business in Morocco. Moroccans prefer to do business with people they know and an advantage is achievable if one understands the culture and habits of a Moroccan business partner. Having accepted an invitation to a Moroccan’s private house it is usual, when dinner is served, to begin by saying ‘Bismillah’ which means ‘In the name of God.’ Traditional Moroccan meals are served on a shared plate.
Never go empty handed to a Moroccan home. Sweet pastries or flowers are suitable gifts but alcohol is not as Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol. Those who do drink alcohol do so away from the family and the public eye. Gifts will not be opened when received, unless the recipient is asked to open it. Moroccans always take their shoes off inside the house. The floors are often covered with a ‘zarbija’ (carpet).
Food and drink is taken only with the right hand and hands are wiped only on paper napkins. Moroccans are very hospitable and meals are important social events for many. Lunch can take two hours. The host will do everything to make sure his guests are satisfied and will do everything to ensure they have eaten enough by urging them to take more food from the shared plate. After dinner, guests say ‘Allah ie glef’ (‘May God dispense you’) and thank the host for their hospitality.
Respectable dress, including covered knees and elbows, will help avoid unwanted attention. Loose clothing such as linen is suitable for the warm climate.
Moroccans are not very time-oriented. It may even be possible that hosts are late for appointments. The host’s associates may also interrupt meetings to discuss other matters. Be punctual and patient. Moroccans are also not very content-oriented. They are more interested in the person with whom they are doing business. Moroccans prefer long-term relationships to quick contracts. Decisions are made very slowly and deliberately in Morocco. Most Moroccans are not action-oriented. Guests and visitors who try to push and rush things could be seen as rude.
Moroccans like to talk first about health, family and friends at the beginning of a conversation. They appreciate patient, people-oriented listeners. More emotive subjects such as Islam, women’s rights and sex should be avoided unless among people very well known to each other.
Presentations are formal in Morocco. Respect is shown by listening and being interested. Questions should be saved until after the presentation. Confrontational questions should be avoided in public as they might cause offence.
Moroccans share several values with the rest of the Arab world. Most of these values derive from Islam. ‘Hshuma’ (shame) for example, is a typically Moroccan value but derives from Islam. Honour and dignity are precious characteristics. Honour is reflected not only on the person himself but also in his family. Therefore, family is very important in Morocco. A person can also be judged by their family background.
Most companies are very hierarchical and so business is most successfully conducted with the highest ranking person in the organisation. The deal will only be secure when that person signs the contract. It is important to know who has the authority to make decisions. Decisions are not made quickly and any attempt to rush the process could be interpreted as an insult. If the government is involved, discussions will take even longer since the ministers of several departments must often give approval.
Contracts, legal concepts
Starting a business requires a license. Fortunately, Morocco has set up a group of Regional Investment Centers (RICs). The RICs expedite the process of acquiring a license and have made the entire process rather enjoyable. There are 16 RICs in all, situated in various parts of Morocco.
Authors: Faouzi Jamal & Brahim El Malki