Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two (of many) things I will never understand about Morocco.

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.


faye cassell said...

I actually asked about the door-knocking thing recently after my students decided to spend 5 minutes pounding on my door while I was sick and not in any mood to answer it. They claim it's because so many people live in compounds with gardens and crazy floor layouts that it's necessary to wait and continue pounding so the person inside knows you're still there. Although why they thought it would take 5 minutes for me to walk across my tiny apartment I'll never know...

B said...

Today, at a market in Taroudant. I asked for 20 dirhams' worth of cheese, plus a 20 dirham bag of chickpeas (marked), plus a pack of Tempo, which everyone knows is 2 dirhams. He gave me the price: 840 ryals. "U f dirham?" I asked. He visibly struggled to calculate in his head, then said "40 dirhams?" Stress on the question mark. So I took his computer from him, divided 840 by 20 and showed him how he'd nearly cheated himself out of 2 dirhams. Wonder how often that happens ~ that the seller loses money by estimating rather than calculating?

william lauer said...

Maybe everybody's out knocking on each other's door, so of course no one answers.

magicalchild said...

Re door knocking etiquette

We have first to make a difference between Islam guidelines and cultural/traditional matters on this subject. In Islam one has to knock the door politely and with respect max three times and if there no answer on the other side has then to leave. People living in the country side as everywhere in the world have their own philosophy about this matter, they can knock your door with their hand or a wood stick or even a metal thing continuously waiting for you to open the door and they can repeat banging on the door and this time hardly in order to draw the attention of the neighbors ( these can explain or help) and wait for as much as it needed to make sure they did their best on this matter and finally they use their voice and shout using all the names and words to explain that it's male not a woman and that it's safe to open and so on, when all these techniques fail and only then they will leave. I think personally that the best thing you can do is to explain to your students to come for a visit only when it's scheduled and for the others to bear with them because it's another culture.
Good luck
Kareem, Taroudant