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Giving and Accepting Gifts and Compliments in Morocco

Today’s post is at the request of a reader who will be traveling to Morocco soon. The topic may seem straightforward to someone living in North America or Europe. If someone has a nice shirt you might say, “wow I really like your shirt!” to which they’ll typically respond, “thank you!” or some variation of this conversation. Certainly, the frequency and context of making and accepting compliments vary depending on the country however it most often is simply an exchange of pleasantries.

Not so in Morocco.

There are some unwritten rules to complimenting here – and you’ll find yourself more at ease if you know before you go. Before I get into this let me point out it’s impossible to generalize ALL Moroccans, certainly not all of these apply to everyone. There is a wide range of protocol depending on social class, where in Morocco they live, and whether it’s a rural or urban environment. None of these will fit everyone, and I’m sure I’ve missed some – please keep that in mind while reading!

To illuminate the points I’ll give some examples.

Giving Compliments in Morocco

You: Wow! I really love your scarf! Where did you get it?

Your Hostess: Oh you like it? You can have it!

You: Oh no no I just was wondering where I could get one too.

Your Hostess: No, no I insist! *hands over scarf*

Awkward pause.

Crap.

How to Deal with This Situation

Option 1: Take the easy way out avoid complimenting altogether.

Here’s what I’ve learned we (Americans) often use compliments as a means of small talk. A lot of times we don’t genuinely mean it, sure we might like something but we’re not head over heels with it and we certainly don’t want it for ourselves. Other times we are curious because we’d like to buy it or something similar but we don’t want yours. So if you find yourself veering this way, just stop talking and enjoy the silence.

Option 2: Accept the gift if it’s given…

…but be prepared to give the giver something of equal or greater value the next time you see them. So it seems really genuine that a gift is given this way but know there’s usually some expectation that you’ll be giving a gift back at some point that is of equal or greater value. Of course sometimes it really is genuine but the rest of the time there’s an expectation of something more.

Things Not to Ask in Morocco

You: Oh it’s so nice to see you! How have you been?

Your Hostess: Wonderful and you?

You: Really good! How is your husband? It’s been so long since I’ve seen him

Your Hostess: Fine.

You: Of wasn’t he going to get a new job or promotion?

Your Hostess: Yes.

You: And? What happened? He’s such a good man and hard worker I’m sure he got it!

You Hostess: *Changing subject*

This conversation went downhill fast. Some general advice, don’t talk about another woman’s husband or if you’re a man don’t ask about another man’s wife. It’s fine to casually mention or ask about them (and other family members) in conversation but not at length, and nothing beyond a very basic question. This may be slightly different if you are really good friends but if you are acquaintances or have just met don’t do it. I asked MarocBaba if he ever asked his friends about their wives and it was a resounding no. When I asked why he was puzzled as to why someone would ask that and said he would be offended if someone asked him about me in anyway beyond just a general inquiry. It’s just not polite.

Gift Giving Advice

Lots of people ask me for suggestions on what to bring as gifts to family and friends in Morocco so here is some general advice.

Cookies are a Great Gift

Don’t bring homemade gifts – it’s not what’s “from the heart” that counts. Really, it’s a nice thought but handmade gifts here hold almost no significance. People really do want material things.

If it’s a long-term friendship – keep track of gifts (birthdays/weddings/etc) the expectation is when it’s your turn to give a gift you give something at least the same value and possibly slightly bigger.

Gift ideas for first-time meeting (prospective) family members;

  • nice chocolates, cookies, or candies
  • perfume for women
  • small toys if they have children
  • candles
  • kitchen towels or tablecloths
  • baseball hats (men and boys)

You may be invited to visit someone’s home in Morocco. It could be a friend or someone you’ve just met. In these situations, it is customary to bring a gift. Invitations are often extended for lunch or coffee time. Some ideas of things to bring;

  • cookies
  • small gift or treat for kids
  • flowers
  • sugar cones – this is common in rural areas especially or brought to families if someone has died.

I tried to cover some of the larger issues here but if there’s something I’ve left off that you’re still wondering about leave a comment and I will do my best to answer in the comments or update the post.

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Anthony Senora

Sunday 15th of January 2023

Thank you for your post, it helps me a lot. I have a young Moroccan colleague (Muslim Woman) for 3 years now here in west Africa. We casually talked about work, she saw me having a Moroccan tea, and she ask me if I like the tea, I said yes. And she said it's not the actual Moroccan tea, I will prepare a real Moroccan tea. After few days, after work, she called me and ask me to get my real Moroccan tea and Moroccan soup. I would like to know how to respond to her kindness and hospitality. Small advice is much appreciated.

Thank you for your advice in advance.

Anthony

Amanda Mouttaki

Tuesday 17th of January 2023

Hi Anthony - that's a lovely story. I would suggest doing something similar at some point. Perhaps sharing something she may not have the chance to experience in your culture without your help/insight. I would just leave it very open ended so that it didn't feel uncomfortable due to the male/female dynamic. Or perhaps you could bring something to work to share publicly with her, like a special local food.

Ellen

Wednesday 11th of January 2023

My son is traveling to morocco soon to marry his fiancé. What can he bring from me to give my future daughter-in-law what is an appropriate gift and what should he bring to her families home?

Nene

Friday 7th of October 2022

Hello Amanda, What is the best wedding gift one can gift a Moroccan Friend? From a guy to a guy. Thanks

Amanda Mouttaki

Saturday 8th of October 2022

Truthfully - money.

Christina

Monday 3rd of October 2022

Thank you for your excellent advice. I will be traveling to Morocco in a few weeks with a tour group. A friend of mine who traveled there independently several years ago mentioned that often, little children approached him for candy or spare change, but they were also happy to get trinkets like colored pencils or small toys. When traveling in other countries, I've given children small packages of trail mix that I happened to have in my backpack. Is this customary in Morocco to give children small gifts such as these, or should this behavior be discouraged? Our group will also be having dinner with a Moroccan family and I would like to give them a small gift, even though they are getting paid already by the tour company to host the dinner. What are your thoughts?

Amanda Mouttaki

Monday 3rd of October 2022

My personal feelings are not to give things to children who come and ask for them but some people still do it. I wouldn't give money however. I guess it just comes down to personal feelings on the practice. You might want to however be careful with food you give for example many foods we don't even think of have gelatin or pork by-products that wouldn't be ok for most people to eat. Truthfully I would just advise against giving things to kids. For the family that you go to visit then it would be appropriate to and acceptable to bring a small gift. Maybe cookies bought from a local bakery or another item that could be shared amongst the family. Again if you bring something from home just make sure it doesn't contain any pork, gelatin or alcohol.

Kevin

Friday 29th of July 2022

Hi Amanda. I’ve always wanted to travel to Northern Africa, specifically Morocco with my mother as a gift to her for giving up a career in archeology to raise my brother and me. I’m my stateside travels, I have had the good fortune of meeting two peoples of different Berber tribes. One young lady who had studied at a university. She was very kind to my 8 year old twin daughters. She shared some of the most beautiful stories of her people, and rekindled my desire to take my mother to Morocco. Are there special considerations in a gift for her. Secondly, I met a very kindly old man, who left his tribe during the Afrika Corps occupation in WWII and is now to frail to journey back to see them. Do you have any suggestions for tribes people (non-Muslim).

Thanks. Kevin

Amanda Mouttaki

Thursday 18th of August 2022

I'm certain any gift you were to give would be welcome and well received. I know people really enjoy getting specialty items from where you are from. I would still keep in mind avoiding anything with pork or alcohol unless you expressly know they are ok with these items. Nice perfume/aftershave for men and women is also a gift that people tend really like.