I get asked a lot of questions about cross cultural relationships, specifically having to do with Moroccan/American relationships. Often I end up sending back an email and thinking, “gee I should really just write a blog post about this.” I won’t promise a new topic each week but I’ll do my best to be consistent. I’m going to be very honest in my posts and chances are you might disagree with things that I have to say. No two relationships or people are the same so of course each person’s experience will be different. Because our dynamic is that of an American wife and a Moroccan husband, that's the dynamic I'll be using. After 10 years of marriage I feel I do have some legs to stand on.
Today’s topic is on personal space and boundaries.
It’s safe to say that the American sense of personal space and the Moroccan sense of personal space are two completely different things. This is a lesson I learned hard and fast not long after knowing MarocBaba. Few people in Morocco have the amount of actual physical space the typical American family has. The way I grew up was with my sister and I each having our own bedrooms and my parents having their own room – which was somewhat off limits to us. We had our own bedrooms at my grandparents houses and learned early that you give people privacy. In a typical Moroccan home there may be a bedroom for the parents but it’s not out of the ordinary for children to sleep on couches made up as beds each night. The concepts of a communal life are developed from a young age. This idea was completely lost on me.
MarocBaba on the other hand thought it was completely absurd that my mom would call me before she stopped by the house. In Morocco it’s normal to have someone show up at any time of the day without calling ahead. They may even show up with luggage and expect to stay a few days. Never mind if you have any other plans, the assumption is whatever you may have had planned will be put on hold for your guests. You’ll also be serving them at least tea if it’s a short visit, or providing meals for them if it’s a longer stay. This took a long time for me to understand. In my mind (and I still feel this way) it’s completely selfish and presumptuous. I realize it's just a different way of doing things and it has merits however I doubt my bias against this will ever go away!
If you live in a large home or multi-family home in Morocco unless your belongings are under lock and key (literally) people will see them as “community property” unless you’ve drawn some strong boundaries. In many cases people won’t even ask to use something they’ll simply take it. One example, I had a favorite knife that I couldn't find for weeks. Then one day it showed up on the table at lunch. I had served something using the knife weeks earlier and my sister in law liked it so she kept it downstairs, without any mention to me.
If you’re not planning to live in Morocco you probably think why does this matter to me? But, if you’ve got an immigrating spouse than this is important for you to know.
- Have a discussion with your partner or spouse about the American notion of personal space and privacy. This should include expectations when you’re visiting other family members and what is or isn’t appropriate.
- A confusing paradox may be when permission is given. For example, my parents or grandparents would tell him to “help himself” to drinks in the refrigerator. They really meant it however, you would never ever do this in a Moroccan home. I had to explain that while you shouldn’t go raiding someone’s things, when they’ve told you it’s ok to do so, they really mean it.
- Understand where they are coming from. It used to drive me crazy when I would ask MarocBaba if he would like something to drink, he’d say no, and then proceed to drink my drink. Drinking from a shared glass is normal in Moroccan homes but I wanted MY OWN cup and for the longest time this would cause us to bicker! Once I realized why this was happening it was easier for me to make peace with it.
- When friendships are developed some discussion should happen on showing up at someone’s home unannounced and that this is generally not done. It could lead to an awkward situation and leave the immigrating spouse feeling offended that they possibly were not warmly welcomed.
- I have learned that Americans hug a lot. It’s common for friends or family members of opposite genders to say hello or goodbye with a big hug. This puzzles Europeans too but for Moroccans it can lead to anger. This is a touchy subject because you don’t want to upset your friends by rejecting their embrace but you want to respect your spouse.
If you’re the immigrant and moving to or living in Morocco some helpful things to keep in mind;
- While it’s fine to call ahead and see if someone is home, it’s equally acceptable to show up unannounced.
- People are generally more candid and can ask questions that seemly highly personal and offensive to an American; such as “you look fat, you’ve gained weight!” It’s not meant as an insult in most cases.
- If you live in a family home or are staying in a family home you should put away, and even lock into a cabinet anything you don’t want other people to see or use. If you have special food items or things you’ve purchased for yourself keep them in your room and put away.
- People tend to sit much closer to each other than is the case in the US and are more affectionate (same gender).
- If you’re staying with family you should greet each person in the room when you enter by kissing, shaking hands or acknowledging each person individually. Every time. If you’ve gone out of the house and come back, you should do the greetings again.
- If you buy food or something from outside it’s rude to not buy enough for everyone, or to share what you have purchased.
I’ve got a list of ideas in mind for future posts but I’d also love to know what you would like me to talk about! Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to include them in future posts or write a post specifically on your topic or questions.