Monday, January 18, 2016

Different Than I'm Used To – Erich

When one is visiting another place, learning another culture, many things come across as strange. That is certainly true for me here in Marrakech. But it's only strange from my point of view, merely because it is not what I am used to in the United States. I'm sure to Moroccans who visit the U.S., just as many things which I don't think about for a second seem to them just as strange.

So I wanted to categorize some of the normal, everyday happenings and items that are very abnormal when compared to the life I have led before.

Driving: You know how there are lines in the road that tell you where the lanes are and where the divider is between you and cars going in the opposite direction? Those exist here in Morocco too. But they are wholly ignored. The number of lanes on a road is equal to the number of cars that can fit leaving bare millimeters between them.

Some roads have narrow lanes in the shoulder that are meant to be reserved for mopeds and motorcycles. They need not bother. The motorcycles just weave in and out of lanes (sometimes even using the ones meant for cars going the opposite direction.) And cars take over the motorcycle lane so as to fit as many vehicles abreast as possible within the laws of physics.

The mopeds and motorcycles go everywhere! In fact, they are perfectly comfortable using the sidewalks as their extra lanes too. (Many a car uses the sidewalk for parking, but not usually for driving.) As such, the curbs here are very high. No attempt is made to carve curb cuts for wheelchairs. I don't know how anyone in a wheelchair would ever get out of the immediate block on which he or she lived. Because curbs are way up there, and I suspect it is because if they aren't the motorcycles would never leave any room for the pedestrians.

Architecture: In the United States, it is a rare sight to see building with anything other than square corners. Maybe you see some bay windows, but round is in the minority.

Rounded parts
Not so in Marrakech. Some homes do have only square corners, but just as many have rounded areas and curved sides.

In addition, balconies are very popular, we see them on many homes. Colored glass is common in windows. And most windows are in cuts in the wall that are not rectangular. The window may be, but the shape in the wall is much prettier.

I enjoy these windows
In general, buildings here are far more striking and eye-pleasing than in the U.S.A.

Detail in the pillars and doors
Cats: There are cats everywhere. You see them in our neighborhood. You see them in the Medina. You see them in the new city that surrounds the Medina. And you see many of them. You don't see a lot of stray dogs, but stray cats are the thing! We even saw a couple of men feeding stray cats in one neighborhood. Apparently, Moroccans don't mind cats wandering through the streets and yards.

Orange Trees: In many cities you see trees. Lots of trees planted along the sidewalks. The same is true here. Except here, the majority of them are orange trees. They are well pruned so that the branches and leaves form cylinders. But you see fruit growing on them.

Orange you glad?
Right now isn't exactly orange season, though there are plenty of oranges on the trees. I don't know if they would be super sweet or ripe, but they are there. And as far as I can tell, anyone could just take one if he or she wanted. I don't know how they would police this.

Fire Hydrants: The fire hydrants really aren't such a major difference. They just look different than the ones at home. Here is a picture of one.

I know, it's just a fire hydrant
Grocery store: In Morocco (and in South Africa) there is a person whose job is to weigh your produce for you. When you want to buy produce, you put it in a plastic bag. Then you take it to the digital scale and hand it to the person there. He or she weighs it, prints out a sticker with the bar code and price, and then slaps that on the bag. Usually if you haven't tied the bag to his or her satisfaction, you will have a new knot at the top of it too.

If you fail to do this, you get to the cashier who will be unable to scan your food until someone takes it back to the produce area and handles that for you. So don't forget. Or not realize you have to do this the first time you buy produce in Marrakech.

You can get hot dogs made of duck here. Would you call them hot ducks?
But what is true in Marrakech that was not the case in South Africa, is that you can buy more than just fruits and vegetables this way. You can buy pasta. Of course, you can buy it in a box or a plastic wrap like you could in the States. But there are also bins with scoops that hold varied shapes of pasta. And you can scoop your own pasta into a plastic bag and have the person at the produce scale weigh this for you too. It's much less expensive to buy it that way.

As if this weren't freedom enough, you can also scoop your own spices and olives! That's right, there are other bins with big pyramidal piles of cumin or coriander or turmeric or paprika. And you can scoop some into a bag and take that to the produce weighing station. (Of course, for the most part you buy your spices from the spice merchants in the Medina. Much more fun that way. But it is an option here.)
Yes, that's rabbit
Volume: Of course both South Africa and Morocco (like most of the developed world) use the metric system. This was expected. But strangely, they don't agree about their favorite units. And I don't know why.

For example, in the United States, if you buy a can of Coke, you get 12 fluid ounces. Now, nobody else works in ounces. In South Africa you can buy a can of Coke that holds 330 mL. (This is slightly less than 12 fluid ounces, by the way.) And here in Morocco you buy a can of Coke that holds 33 cL.

Now for those of you who know your metric prefixes, you are thinking what I thought. Yes, 33 cL = 330 mL. So why in one country is it labeled in milliliters (which they would spell millilitres) and in the other it is labeled in centiliters (which they would probably spell in Arabic, and I don't know how that would look.) In Morocco, the units of volume are either liters or centiliters, but I don't have any idea why this is.

Garbage: We are staying here for a month, in a furnished apartment. So it isn't as though the maid comes in to clean. This means that we have to take out the trash (or the rubbish). No problem, right? Except it took me a long time to figure out where exactly I was supposed to take it to. I asked the landlord, and he told me out the gate and to the right. I went out the gate and to the right is just a sidewalk and some trees. No garbage cans (or dustbins.)

What I eventually (about a week later) figured out is that I am going way to the right. Along the main arterial roads, spaced in the shoulders or on the curbs, are dumpsters. When you need to take your trash out, you carry it out of the neighborhood, to the main road, walk to the nearest dumpster, and drop it in there.

I haven't yet seen a garbage truck emptying these dumpsters, but I have returned to the dumpster nearest me, and it does get emptied.

Patisseries: A patisserie is a shop that sells pastries. They are copious in Marrakech. Many of them are also boulangeries which means bakeries, which sell bread. So far, not that different.

Several of the patisseries we have visited have been swarmed with bees. There are bees crawling all over the pastries. I can only imagine that they use a lot of honey in the recipes or something that attracts the bees. What is so different to me is that no one in Marrakech seems to find this strange. They don't mind the bees there at all.

It's almost as if the mark of a really good patisserie is the number of bee customers it attracts. Well, that makes sense. I mean we're always told that to find the best places to eat, go where you see the locals eating. I suspect these are not tourist bees.

Those are some of the many things that strike me as, well, different. But then again, I'm really only one step removed from being a tourist bee.


  1. We miss you and are glad you are reading. Hope you are staying warm and dry!