1. Door-knocking etiquette. When someone approaches a door in the States, he or she rings the doorbell, waits politely, possibly rings a second time if no one responds within a minute or two, then realizes no one is home, shrugs his or her shoulders, and Goes Away.
That ain’t how it works in Morocco. One raps repeatedly, authoritatively ~ usually on a metal door that dispatches the message in waves of sound that billow throughout the neighborhood. After about a second of silence one knocks again, with yet more authority and for a longer period. Another half a second and the knocking is repeated again, accompanied by a “Wah, Ahmed” ~ Hey, Ahmed ~ called into any open window.
The Moroccan door-knocker is the last of the cockeyed optimists. He simply will not give up. I timed it today ~ 20 minutes someone stood at my landlord’s door (just outside my own), knocking, calling out, knocking again, yelling again. And again. And, if he gives up at all, it’s only to go home for a glass of tea (reinforcement, dontcha know) before he returns, within 10 minutes, to start the procedure all over again.
(Timing of the knock is different here, as well. I had to get out of bed last night at 11 p.m. to dissuade a couple of would-be visitors, and they started up again just after 6 this morning.)
I am sure that, in this culture, none of this is not considered rude. It’s rare, considering the large extended families living together, that no one is at home. One might have to simply keep on knockin’ until they wake from their post-lunch nap ~ which, again, I am sure is not considered rude.
This is one of the ways in which I will never fully wllf (adjust) to Morocco.
2. Making change. The official currency of Morocco is the dirham. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but it’s been around a long time. Shal hadi ~ long, long ago ~ the currency was the ryal. The exchange rate is 20 ryals to the dirham. (And, for those of you keeping track, there are about 7.5 dirhams to the dollar.)
For some reason, most items are still priced in ryals. Actually, taking today’s supermarket visit as a typical example, most things, if priced at all, are priced in dirhams ~ but for some inexpliable (to me) reason are rung up in ryals.
So. I went to the store. I asked for 5 dirhams’ worth of rice. I picked up a jar of Nescafe clearly marked “30 dirhams.” I asked for two croissants, which (due to an unfortunate pain du choclate habit I’ve picked up here) I happen to know are a dirham each. I also bought a bottle of bleach (see upcoming post on mold) and another of dishwashing soap, both unmarked. And a couple of other things.
I brought my items to the counter and made small talk with the shopkeeper’s son as he examined each item, punched a number into his calculator, and put the item into my bag. (Why, yes, I do bring my own, unless I need a garbage sack!) Then he waited for me to ask the price ~ this is something that is never offered unless asked for.
I don’t remember the exact price, only that it was in ryals.
And so the dance begins. I asked, as I always do, Shal f dirham? ~ how much in dirhams? The young man scratches his head, completely flummoxed. He looks to his friend for support. He looks skyward, either figuring numbers in his head or requesting help from above. I suggest he use the calculator. (Yes, it’s lame that neither he nor I can divide by 20 in our heads, but I plead further ignorance/stupidity in that I can never quite understand the precise number quoted to me, it goes by so quickly.)
Now. Imagine I hadn’t asked the price but had only handed over a 100 dirham bill. The kid, like any shopkeeper I’ve yet encountered, would be able to hand me the precise change without all of this rigamarole. I can only presume he is doing the exact same conversion in his head that I have just asked for. But, if I ask, it’s a seemingly Herculean task.
Go figure. So to speak.
Just two things I’ve been pondering, bemused and amused, on a sunny February afternoon.
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