A strange title on a blog about holidays in Morocco? No, because these holidays in Morocco, when they take place outside the big cities like Agadir or Marrakesh, bring together European holidaymakers and Moroccans, who do not have the same notion of what is modest or not.
I myself, having travelled back and forth between Europe and Morocco for a long time, before settling down for good, I have gradually learned to juggle with this application of Montaigne’s phrase “truth below the Pyrenees, error beyond” (as indeed during my European peregrinations, German modesty and French modesty are not shocked by the same things).
And little by little, impregnated more and more with this Moroccan culture in which I bathe on a daily basis, I find myself thinking “oh, shocking” in front of tourists that I would not notice in France.
And yet it is a subject that, curiously, attracts a lot of discussion.
At one extreme, we have the tourist who I would describe as traumatized, who wonders at every second if her ankle is not too conspicuous. This is a very rare occurrence, but in the end it is quite easy to manage.
On the other hand, we have what I heard one day from a Spanish tourist whose shorts stopped above her buttocks and showed a whale-tail thong, then a large piece of back, then a kind of strip of fabric that didn’t seem to be held up by much and from which were protruding transparent plastic bra straps, a Spanish tourist who was quite undressed, and who expressed in a strong accent to her guide that she had paid for her holiday, and that she would do what she wanted. That’s how you end up getting stones thrown at your car.
Between the two extremes, there are many people who sincerely don’t want to shock, but who also want to enjoy the sun, and who don’t have the same reflexes.
And then there is the argument of religious freedom, which is more frequent now that there has been a lot of talk about the veil in Europe.
The last time the subject came up was about the 4L Trophy, on a 4L lovers’ forum where I found a photo that made me raise my eyebrows, that of a 4L decorated with a superb 1950s pin-up girl (you can find a larger version at the beginning of the forum thread at this address: http://www.r4-4l.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=20871&p=1, it’s the 8th photo). You can also see it on a video of Auto Plus and discover on an article of the sponsor’s blog that this car had the first price of the most beautiful decoration!
I imagined “this” passing through the small Berber villages, going down the roads that are almost tracks, towards Imilchil and Aït Hani, where it is cold in winter and grey in spring, and where few tourists pass by, apart from the marriage festival, I simply imagined “this” in the main street of Tazzarine, and I felt a little uncomfortable, imagining the villagers doing their best not to see it.
To which a participant replied
I have never understood why Westerners must absolutely comply with the religious “rules” of Muslim countries, while asking for the opposite is assimilated to racism and intolerance…
This sentence sums up well a set of arguments I have often heard, but in my opinion it misses the point.
- It is not about religious rules. Religious rules would be wearing the veil, not eating in public during Ramadan, not drinking alcohol, not being able to share a hotel room without being married. Rules which, with the exception of wearing the veil, which is free, and alcohol outside Ramadan, are only imposed on Moroccan Muslims. In other countries, they are also imposed on tourists.
- It must be said that the lady is lightly dressed. Outside the trendy places, I am not sure that a woman walking in this outfit, in the street of Trifouillis les Oies, would not have some problems…
- Modesty is not exclusive to the Muslim religion. Especially in the countryside, whether in Chile, Argentina, Tibet or Romania, Hungary… modesty is typical of less modern ways of life, and especially of places where people live more promiscuously than in our three-roomed houses for singles and small family units. Clearly, when people live in large numbers and in close proximity, whether in a tent or in a farm building, living well together leads to modesty.
- It is true that in Morocco, if someone is immodest, they will be reproached in the name of religion. But in reality, it is a cultural fact (the same image will not shock a Muslim living in Europe, or even in Casablanca, even if he does not approve of it). The two are so intertwined that it is difficult to say which one precedes the other, but in any case, it is not a specificity of the Muslim religion.
- In fact, we have long imposed some of our rules of life, whether religious or secular, on Muslims, starting with the prohibition of polygamy, and no one [here in the West] sees this as racism or intolerance.
- Without this being a religious constraint, at the time when these pin-ups flourished (1940s to the end of the 1960s), they were mainly illustrations for adults. The American code of morality, for example, made it easy to show women in swimming costumes to the general public, but not in lingerie. Even today, in another area, Google refuses to allow its advertisements to be displayed on web pages where the slightest nipple can be seen, even if it is information on how to use a breast pump. Religious or cultural constraint?
So what to do?
First, choose your holiday wisely. If you want Sea/Swimming Pool, (Sex) and Sun, the small villages of the Atlas or towns like El Hoceima may not be the ideal destination. It is better to fall back on Agadir, Essaouira to a lesser extent, the big hotels in Marrakech or private enclaves like Club Med.
Secondly, be aware of your surroundings. Moroccans are tolerant, discreet and welcoming people. Except in exceptional cases, if you overstep the mark, no one will blame you directly. But seeing the looks that avoid you, or on the contrary become too heavy, should give you an indication.
Understand also that if “you have paid for your holiday”, the inhabitants of the villages you pass through have not asked for and will not receive any of this money. And that they are not necessarily willing to trade their values for money.
You will also realise that, unlike in other countries, you are not asked to make an excessive effort: cover your upper arms, chest and upper thighs. That in the evening, at the hotel, by the pool, you can sunbathe in complete peace. And don’t forget that this request for modesty applies to both men and women!
This is a translation of a post originally published on the website of our tours agency, in March 2012. After business and website closed, the French version can be read here.