Morocco vs. USA
A few venerable readers have requested that I do an entry about culture in Morocco and how it can differ from that in the United States. Although it’s a serious topic that I think about a lot, I’ve decided to write an entry that treats the subject lightly. I hope all of you know me well enough to see this entry as something of a joke (while still trying to address some issues of culture). I also hope that my overgeneralizations are seen as intentional. Alright, enough prefacing. The format of the competition will be a best of seven series.
ROUND I: FRIENDLINESS/PUBLIC SPACE
In Morocco, people spend a lot of their free time outside, hanging out with their neighbors. Everyone in a village is seen as family, even if they’re not blood related; I call every older man in my village uncle. In many villages there are public spaces where people congregate and talk. Neighbors spend a lot of time in the space between their houses talking and relaxing together. In contrast, Americans spend more of their free time in their houses, with their family (it’s also noteworthy that they have less free time, but that’s another round). Americans are friendly and polite with their neighbors, but they aren’t necessarily friends.
DECISION: Morocco, friendliness is good (MOROCCO 1, USA 0)
ROUND II: ATTITUDE TOWARDS WORK
Americans work more hours per week than most other people in the world. There are plenty of anecdotes about Americans, driven by material success, sacrificing quality time with their friends/family for work. Contrary to what many outside observers may say, Moroccans do work hard, just not as much as Americans. I’ve been working with doctors the past two weeks and they would work from 9 or 10 until 2 or 3 and call it a day. Work on the farm is obviously different from white-collar work, but I think the same attitude can be applied to blue-collar work in Morocco. 4 or 5 hours is a solid day’s work.
DECISION: Morocco, Americans work too hard (MOROCCO 2, USA 0)
ROUND III: WOMEN’S ROLE IN SOCIETY
This is an easy decision for me. A lot of people decry sexism in America (and rightly so), but it’s nothing like what Moroccan women face. Women belong to a different caste in Morocco. If I get invited over for a meal at someone’s house here, I almost always eat with just the men of the house. The meal is often bigger than we men could eat and at first I thought it was because the family was trying to show off their wealth. But then I realized that the women of the house ate whatever we didn’t. Women in Morocco often get the leftovers. That’s just one example of the divide between men and women.
DECISION: USA (MOROCCO 2, USA 1)
ROUND IV: ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE ENVIRONMENT
There is no such thing as environmentalism in Morocco, at least not that I’ve seen. As will be the subject of a subsequent post (tune back in Wednesday!), there is a problem with the unsustainable use of resources in Morocco, and few people are aware of the issue. Although not as pressing as using resources unsustainably, Moroccans treat the world as a giant trash can. In many cities, there aren’t public trashcans for people to throw their trash into; you just toss your trash wherever you feel. The streets of my town are littered with trash. Periodically, on trash burning day, the stench of burning garbage fills the air. In America we (or some of us) believe that the environment has an inherent value beyond the resources that it can provide for us. The ideal of conservation is perhaps most evident in our numerous, expansive National Parks. On the other hand, as a nation, we’re responsible for most of the damage wreaked upon this world by humans.
DECISION: MOROCCO, Americans care more about the environment (or say they do), but do more damage to it. (MOROCCO 3, USA 1).
ROUND V: FOOD AND NUTRITION
Mostly I created this category to make the scorecard a little more even. The idea of a balanced diet in Morocco doesn’t really exist. Linguistically, there isn’t even a way to say that you ate nutritious food as opposed to simply being full. People here eat a lot of bread and have little variety in their diet. When vegetables are served, they’re often cooked to death and deprived of any vitamins. As I’ve mentioned before, people drink a ton of sugary tea. The worst part about it is they think it’s good for their health. In fact, a lot of people have diabetes (because of the tea) and constant headaches brought on by caffeine dependency. Getting people to cut back on tea would be a major health victory, but it’s so entrenched in the culture that’s practically untouchable.
DECISION: USA (MOROCCO 3, USA 2)
ROUND VI: TIME
Time is much more flexible in Morocco. Most people use the five daily prayers (which are governed by the sun) as their clock. If you ask someone what time an event is happening the next day, they’ll most likely say “morning” or “afternoon.” If you’re lucky, you might get “early morning.” Some people wear watches, but the time on their watch is not accurate: maybe plus or minus one hour. The attitude toward time has been highlighted by the recent time change in Morocco. For the first time ever, Morocco did daylight savings time. Some people changed their clocks, some didn’t. So now there is the confusion whether people are talking about the “old” time or the “new” time. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’s frustrated by this ambiguity.
DECISION: USA, I hate it when people are late (MOROCCO 3, USA 3)
ROUND VII (FINAL ROUND): FAMILY TIES
Families are bigger in Morocco. Unlike the States, people are expected to live with their families until they get married. I’ve told a couple people in my town that I intend to move out of my home stay family’s house when I’m permitted by Peace Corps and they can’t believe it. I would say that the Moroccan extended family is also closer than the American one. Kids go to live with their aunts or uncles in another town if there is some sort of opportunity for them their. And this isn’t seen as “moving out.”
DECISION: MOROCCO, Ironic that the guy who moved to far away from his family for two years would value family ties, right? Sometimes I wonder too.
FINAL SCORE: MOROCCO 4, USA 3
There you have it, Morocco’s better than the States.
Update and Quick Story
I hope the light tone that this post has taken communicates my mood. Everything is well here. Home stay is supposed to the hardest part of the Peace Corps service, but I’m halfway through with it and doing fine.
However, there was one unfortunate event in my community that warrants sharing. To be honest, I thought about not posting it because it would worry my parents.
On Monday night, I was hanging out with a group of guys in my town, when we were approached by another member of the town (whom I’ve never spoken to). About 20 feet away from me, he announced loudly, in French, that I had to leave the town. It had something to do with me not being Amazigh (Berber). A number of people told me that he is crazy as a result of his military service.
The next day the Sheikh (local authority figure) called me up and invited me over to his house. I recounted the event to him and he told me to tell the police. I told the police the next day and they went and arrested the guy. I had to write a declaration (in French!) and everything. The guy is now in prison or a psychiatric hospital; it’s unclear how long he will be there. Apparently he’s caused a number of other problems in town, but the police only did something about it when it affected an American.
This would seem to be a very discouraging event, but actually it’s been great. I was worried about being vilified as the foreigner who got a guy sent to prison, but it’s been the opposite reaction. Everyone in my town has been very supportive of me. They all say things like, “Anything bad that happens to you, it’s like it happened to us.” Also, a number of community leaders that I had been trying to have one on one conversations with now wanted to meet with me. They were supportive and it also led to talking about what I’m doing in their community, which is what I’ve wanted to talk about all along. So in the end, it worked out well. I do feel pretty weird about being responsible for a guy being in prison, however.