Cultural Faux Pas From Morocco

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The second or maybe third time I had gone to visit my in-laws in Morocco, I definitely felt like I had it down. I had learned many of the cultural rules like to be careful that I don’t thoughtlessly put my hand on my husband’s leg or my arm around him in casual conversation. I also knew enough to run the cold water when you dump boiling water down the drain because of the superstition that the devil or spirits can live in the drain. And I certainly was culturally sensitive enough to know about eating only with my right hand (the left is for wiping, the right for eating). Basically by that trip, I felt I could do no wrong culturally.

 

About 12 members of the family were over, mostly elder. Meals are always communal in Morocco–all on one plate. I was sitting across from one of the great uncles eating yet another of my mother-in-law’s fantastic lunches of baked, spiced fish and vegetables. There was only one problem, the head of the fish was pointing towards me and I am squeamish about all types of heads. So I circumvented the head and ate from the body throughout the meal.

 

After lunch, hands washed and sipping on mint tea on the couch, my husband casually mentions, “By the way, you have to eat from the place on the plate in front of you. You were eating my Great Uncle’s food the whole meal today.” Obviously, I still had a lot to learn.

3 COMMENTS

  1. What a funny story! All because you didn’t want to eat a fish head… I once turned down a sheep’s eyeball in Norway (I’m American) and they had put it in front of me on purpose, to sort of put me on the spot, all in good humor. They told me it was customary for the guest to eat the eye, it would be offensive if I didn’t. (All the while smiling broadly, waiting to see if I’d do it.) Luckily, they were good enough friends of mine that I could tell them that I didn’t care if I offended them–I wasn’t eating the sheep’s eye. A lot trickier with in-laws!! Haha Thanks for sharing!!

  2. I enjoyed your story. Particulary the fragment re: dumping boiling water… It brought some great memories. I spent 3 years in Morocco and I still remember how horrified our maid was watching me pouring hot water down the drain (what’s the better way of getting rid of all the residues and smell). I am still thinking about goof times in Morocco and our maid everytime I pour the boiling water… Some of the learnt habites (we lived in 5 countries over last 12 years) have been travelling with us since…

  3. Lol Ewa- Before I understood about the hot water down the drain, I never quite grasped the flurry of women to the sink every time I was draining veggies, pasta or something else from the stove. Horrified- as you call it- is the precise word for it.

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