This past weekend, about 20 people from IES Abroad Salamanca headed off to Tangier, Morocco. As the country sits just across the strait of Gibraltar, many of us had dreams of visiting the country from before arriving in Spain. While we ended up making our own individual plans in various smaller groups, most decided to travel on the same weekend for the sake of convenience.
I was struck by the fact that we had left Europe the moment I stepped off the plane into the humid Morocco air. We landed at night. Stepping off the plane, I was met with buildings illuminated with bright white signs written in Arabic. I was so mesmerized right away I couldn’t help but take some pictures as we made our way to customs.
Once through customs, we went to the exchange in the airport to exchange our Euros and U.S. dollars for Moroccan Dirhams, of which we received ten for every dollar exchanged. We had read online that you can use cards at many places in Morocco, which we also were accustomed to in the vast majority of the cities in Europe we had visited. This ended up not being the case, and we had to exchange much more money later on as cash was absolutely necessary almost everywhere we went.
The next day, after our complementary rooftop breakfast, we went out to the market to walk around the city and shop. The next surprise that came our way was bartering. While we were well aware of the practice, it is much different hearing about it versus taking part in it yourself. Many times, we simply forgot to barter or did not feel right doing so as the prices were very cheap by our standards. Other times, we bowed out too early in the bartering dance and settled for a price much higher than the local price. Nonetheless, it felt like a little victory the few times we were able to barter an item down, with one of my friends bringing the price of a jersey from 350 dirhams to 125 dirhams ($35 to $12.50 roughly).
A large portion of our culture shock came from the different styles of dress. Though it may have been very hot and humid, all of the locals continued to wear pants without fail, and every day, they had very little skin showing. Even though Tangier is a touristy city, members of our group were still stared at as we walked in the street for their different appearances and less conservative clothing.
Another area where we experienced a good deal of culture shock was eating out. To begin, the prices were way lower even than we had grown accustomed to in Spain. More than the prices, a lot of the things, like baskets of bread, bottles of water and sometimes little desserts were given to us for free. This was actually a part of reverse culture shock, as after living in Spain for three months we were fully expecting to have to pay for anything put on our table, vehemently denying bread and water at first when it was placed in front of us. The food itself was also very different from what we had been eating in Spain, as a lot of the dishes were loaded with spices and flavors, while Spanish dishes typically are less seasoned with lighter, more delicate flavors. While eating, there were also some new mannerisms that we had to adjust to, such as eating with your right hand, using bread as a utensil (which was delicious!) and using three fingers to hold you bread.
It is also worth mentioning that we were in Morocco for the end of Ramadan, with Eid occurring on Saturday. Ramadan and Eid are more of personal and family celebrations without much pomp and frill, so there was not a lot to see. But it was interesting to walk through city streets with everything absolutely closed on Eid, as well as dealing with restaurants being open and very early and very late hours to accommodate Ramadan.
All in all, the trip was filled with many new sights and experiences, but I honestly had never felt so out of place. It is still crazy to me that such a different, but beautiful style of life and culture exist only nine miles away from Spain, while countries that we have visited hundreds of miles away in the rest of Europe all had a plethora of things in common.
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Kai da Luz
My name is Kai da Luz and I am a current sophomore at Villanova University who is studying in Salamanca. I love to play volleyball and am a major foodie.