As the country develops and Westernizes, many modern changes can be noted in the people living in major cities such as Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier, while Fes and Marrakesh maintain the traditions of old world Morocco. In smaller towns and rural areas a much different lifestyle exists, and it can be hard to believe that in a country a little larger than the size of California, such a difference exists. In the cities, you will find cars, buses, and taxis making the streets noisy and busy while tall buildings penetrate the skyline. Yet, in the rural areas a camel or donkey is the mode of transportation among the small houses and farmlands or dessert landscapes. The convenience of cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores are nonexistent in these places and people often rely on trading goods rather than purchasing them.
The people of Morocco are kind, warm, and well known around the world for their hospitality. A Moroccan, after having just met you, will invite you to his home for a feast of all they have to give, even if they are of meager means. They value building personal relationships, and want to help others for the sake of it, not always for their own personal gain. Family is important to Moroccans and you will often find extended family gathering for meals, tea, and visits. Moroccans will often ask you about the health and well-being of your own family, even if they have never met them. They have a genuine interest in concern for other people. Personal honor and respect is most important to Moroccans so crossing these lines can quickly turn a valuable relationship sour almost immediately.
As modern as Morocco becomes, some old traditions and ways of life live strong among the fancy cars and clothes of the Western world. Such traditions are the souks where goods and sometimes services are sold, and also sometimes traded. Although there are many department stores in the cities selling groceries, clothes, and household items, many people prefer to buy from their local souk vendors than at the major chains stores. Bargaining and purchasing needed items for trusted vendors is a way of life, and everything needed is purchased at a more reasonable price than the brightly lit stores.
Another such custom is a weekly trip to the local hammam where Moroccans spend a great deal of time exfoliating their skin, washing their hair and bodies thoroughly in no particular rush. The large bath houses separated by men’s and women’s quarters are steamy rooms where many people socialize as much as they bathe. For those who don’t have a shower in their house, the hammam is not only a way of life but a necessity. Even those living in large apartments with modern amenities still visit the local hammams on a regular basis.
Additionally, Morocco is still a male dominated society, although the government is working hard to maintain and advance the rights of women and children. There are still places such as tea cafes where the presence of women is not welcome, and other places such as the courthouses where men and women are still expected to sit on opposite sides of the room.
The modernization of Morocco continues as technology flourishes, free-trade agreements open, and the people embrace the conveniences of the Western world. Running hot water, seated toilets, televisions and satellite dishes, home appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, side by side refrigerators, vehicles, computers, and cell phones are the things we easily take for granted as a way of life. However, these things are still reserved for the rich and have a long way to go before anyone will ever be able to take them for granted in Morocco.
One aspect of Spanish that makes it different from the rest of the Romance languages is that it contains a rich presence of linguistic elements derived from Arabic. The Arab influence in Spain dates back to a period before it was one country under the name of Spain. In the year 711, when the first Arab groups began crossing the strait of Gibraltar and arriving to the Iberian Peninsula, the territory was formed by independent kingdoms.
The Muslim advance was blocked in Poitiers in the year 723, which explains why the influence of Arabic is least notable in the northeastern part of the peninsula. The Catalan language also has few lexical elements derived from Arabic, while Spanish has numerous words of Arabic origin (some 4,000) which are heard with increasing frequency in regional varieties of Spanish as one moves south down the peninsula. It is important to remember that the Muslims in Spain at the time (the name Spain will be used for the sake of convenience) introduced momentous cultural innovations such as alchemy (the origin of chemistry), algebra, the game of chess (called ajedrez in Spanish), the use of Arabic numbers instead of Roman numerals, the number zero, and Aristotelian philosophy which had been lost in the rest of Europe.
Spanish music is also influenced by the historic Muslim presence in the peninsula. The instruments and melodies they brought to the region would later give way to the guitar and flamenco, a musical genre that shares many structural elements with traditional music from northern Africa. Spanish cooking also makes use of herbs and spices originally from northern Africa. The garbanzo bean is also from there. While rarely used on the continent of Europe, the bean is however a characteristic feature of Spanish cuisine. From a linguistic point of view, Arabic words in Spanish share certain traits: most are nouns and place names, very few are adjectives or verbs, and only one is a preposition (hasta). One interesting phenomenon in Spanish is the presence of word pairs, one of Arabic origin and the other Latin, two different words that describe the same thing: aceituna and oliva, alacrán and escorpión, aceite and óleo, jaqueca and migraña…
The Arab influence in Spain becomes very clear when looking at the names of places. If you leave Algeciras, next to Gibraltar, and you head north, you cross the Guadalquivir River, go through La Mancha and up towards Guadalajara. All of these names of geographical features and cities come from Arabic.
It is no surprise that Spaniards are so attracted to Arab culture, and not just because the Mosque of Cordoba, Granada’s Alhambra, and Seville’s Giralda are all wonderful examples of its architecture. Southern Spain’s large community of people with Maghrebian heritage (Maghreb describes the northwestern area of Africa) - mostly Moroccan - brings its culture closer to Spain’s and it invites Spaniards to visit a region that is so close but which at the same time seems so far away. At just 14 kilometers to the south, Morocco attracts numerous Spanish tourists every year who are eager to get to know their neighbours better.