How to: Blend

As I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to Morocco, I’m wondering how hard it’s going to be, honestly, for me, as a solo female traveler, as a white Westerner, as a non-Muslim, as a person with nonexistent Arabic and shaky French language skills. In most of the places I’ve traveled to, as long as I’ve kept my mouth shut, I’ve looked pretty much like I could belong there. Even in Istanbul, my only previous travel in the Muslim world, more than one person approached me speaking Turkish and was surprised when I wasn’t able to answer, because they assumed I was local. (Half Eastern European genes + half Western European genes + dyed auburn hair = plausible modern Istanbullu lady, apparently?) But I don’t think that holds for Morocco. So here’s what I’m going to try.

1) Learn to talk. 

I’ve written before about the important words and phrases to learn in the language spoken wherever you’re traveling. I’ve also been informed that, particularly in Morocco, respect and politeness are of the utmost importance in all personal interactions. So I’m going to learn the most formal ways to greet people, say goodbye, and say thank you. I’m a guest in their country, and my mama raised me right.

2) Learn to act.

Cultural norms of behavior are incredibly complex, especially if you’re trying to move around in a culture that in many ways is diametrically opposed to the one you were raised in. Liberal feminist me will need to be aware of the things I can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, do. Can I shake a man’s hand? Can I sit alone in a cafe? One small and not exactly gender-specific example: when I sit down, I automatically cross my legs, and often, I’ll cross them in the more traditionally “male” way, ankle on knee. In casual settings at home I don’t even think about it. But in Muslim countries, pointing the bottom of your foot at someone like that is extremely insulting. So I need to be aware of that, aware of what I’m doing and how it might look or feel to the people around me.

3) Learn to dress.

This one is going to involve some shopping. My standard uniform at home is skinny jeans and a lowcut t-shirt most of the year or a short dress when it’s hot. It’s what I like to wear, what I feel comfortable in, what I think I look good in. These things aren’t going to fly in Morocco. I was told by a woman at one of my favorite local travel spots, Kopi Cafe, that she felt more comfortable during her travels in Morocco when she was conservatively dressed, and it’s likely that this made the people around her more comfortable as well. So I need to buy a long, flowy skirt or some loose linen pants and some long-sleeved, higher-necked shirts. I’ve also read that, while not all Moroccan women, especially in cities, cover their heads, it might make women traveling alone feel a bit more safe and protected to do so. I’ll plan to bring along a scarf, so I’ve got the option.

What are some of the adjustments you’ve had to make while traveling in another country?

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8 thoughts on “How to: Blend

  1. I haven’t traveled to that part of the world, but I have heard similarly from other American women who felt safer and more comfortable dressed conservatively. I don’t believe Morocco is as extreme as other places, but blending in is paramount whenever I’m traveling. Even more so when traveling alone!

  2. I went to Morocco not too long ago (Fez, Rabat and a few smaller places) and as far as language goes you’d be surprised how many people speak English. Almost everyone knows English and French. Also I tried to dress conservative as you are and felt comfortable. Although, I went with other girls and they wore tight jeans and they were fine. So that can go either way. Covering your chest is more important,I believe.

    • Good to know about people speaking English! I hate to rely on that and fulfill the “dumb American” stereotype, but the fact is, I’m not really fluent in anything but English.

      • Yes, I felt terrible about fulfilling the stereotype as well, especially because they’re all trilingual… But safe travels! You’ll have a great time!

    • Thanks! It’s going to take a bit more research for me to understand the culture well enough to respect it, but I’m looking forward to learning.

  3. so… I’m blonde, whiter than white (I hate it, but what to do) and I was traveling between marrakesh and taghazout without major problems, so… take care but: ENJOY!!! 🙂

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