What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?

Our next stop for this fall’s Living Abroad series is Morocco. Sinclair, an American elementary school teacher, lives in Tangier, Morocco’s third largest city. Here, Sinclair describes Moroccan walnut, date and avocado smoothies, her dating experience in Morocco and Tanger’s incredible love of Birkenstocks…

What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?

Sinclair’s background. I moved to Morocco in September 2019 and quickly fell in love with the country. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and welcoming; Felt right at home upon arrival. I loved it so much I didn’t want to leave, even when COVID-19 hit Morocco in 2020 and I had the opportunity to return to the US. Although the past year and a half has been incredibly difficult and stressful, a lot of good has come from friendships and making progress in my career. Morocco has so much to offer and I’ve been on some incredible adventures and through it I’ve found a place where I can see myself flourishing. I feel like I’m following my heart and living my life to the fullest.

What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?

About natural beauty. Morocco has inspired my photography because of its seemingly effortless beauty. There is something very special about the Moroccan light that helps make it so photogenic, with its bright colors and charming streets. Everywhere I turn, I’m struck by small glimpses of art, from sweeping archways, rooftop views of the city and ocean, to street cats lounging among food vendors.

Regarding the value of life. The cost of living in Morocco is very affordable. Rent varies from city to city, but you can find apartments for between $200 and $800 a month. As for other expenses, it’s easy to find a meal that costs $2-$6. Dinner at nice restaurants will cost around $25. This is partly because almost all fresh produce is locally sourced and very cheap, as Morocco has a huge agricultural industry.

On food. Moroccan food is delicious and full of flavor. Fear not if you don’t like spicy food, because Moroccans don’t tend to either, and their traditional foods are rich and full of umami and sweet flavors. Couscous is an obvious favorite for many, but I love the lamb and prune tagine, which is essentially slow-roasted and eaten with fresh bread. The Moroccan smoothie and juice bars are my favorite. You won’t find better freshly squeezed orange juice anywhere else. I love the Moroccan Smoothie with Nuts, Dates and Avocado which is delicious, filling and perfect for breakfast.

What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?
What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?

About fashion. You’ll find that in the big cities like Rabat and Casablanca, women dress looser and dress more American. Where I live, in the north, it is much more conservative. people dress more consistently and more alike. On the street, I notice women wearing long maxi dresses, blouses, high-waisted pants, chunky sneakers, big sunglasses, and bright red lips. Some women wear headscarves, but so do many. There are many young hipsters who dress more like a French art student vibe with jeans, fun prints and lots of details. Last but not least Birkenstock! They are that Tangier’s shoe and I’m here for it. There are certain clothing styles that I don’t feel comfortable wearing in public, like short shorts or tank tops, because I’ll stand out even more than I already do as a white woman.

On being an American in Morocco. Many Moroccans love America. When they find out I’m American, they get excited and want to talk about it and ask me questions or share some random connection they have with the US. Many Moroccans are involved in US affairs, from politics to TikTok trends. They are often delighted that I chose to live abroad and are friendly towards me. Some people I’ve met still have the American dream of making a life for themselves in the land of opportunity. Others don’t care, but find the American way of thinking very open and are fascinated and interested in our way of life.

What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?
What is it really like to live as an expat in Morocco?

In local languages. Morocco has two official languages: Arabic and Amazigh. Most Moroccans speak Darija, a Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am learning Darija and know enough to use it in the market, to communicate with taxi drivers or to say hello to my neighbors. But it’s hard because it’s so different from English and there are so many sounds that we don’t use that I just can’t pronounce. Amazigh is spoken by the indigenous population of Morocco and is characterized as an Afroasiatic language; it uses a completely different alphabet. Many Moroccans also speak French; it is often used as the language of business and government.

About street harassment. I face street harassment quite regularly. Walking around Tangier on a given day, I might spend 30 minutes with 8 different remarks or none at all. It’s really random. The saving grace is that no matter how angry or angry it sometimes makes me and often uncomfortable, I rarely feel unsafe. I might get a “hola, muy guapa” or a “bonjour” or a lot of looks, and I’ve been followed, but it’s rarely been scary. Sometimes it seems like they want to take their shot, others are just too friendly or curious, and some are rude, but in most cases I don’t feel that the men have bad intentions. I do my best to be alert and aware, but I chose to ignore it. I also hang out with my guy friends, which reduces my focus considerably. It’s not fun, but it’s manageable.

About acquaintances. Dating in Morocco is exciting to say the least. Dating in Morocco is much more complicated as there are several laws and customs that prevent the mixing of the sexes. Relationships and dating are definitely there, but they are more hidden. Sex before marriage is not allowed, but that has never stopped anyone. Of course, no PDA and forget vacationing with a significant other, as unmarried Moroccan couples cannot stay in hotels and Airbnbs, except with foreigners. Like everywhere, younger generations are changing and I see couples around and know people who are dating and in serious relationships but often don’t tell their extended family. I notice that some people live like Hannah Montana, one is quite conservative with their family, the other is more free with their friends. Lack of freedom forces people to act in certain ways so I understand how difficult it is to maneuver around.

When meeting someone special. I only dated a bit and mostly through friends I knew in my first year in Morocco until I moved to Tangier and got a bit bored and stuck at home so I decided to see what Tinder was like there. I got a lot of positive feedback but due to Covid I had little interest in actually going on dates until I met my now partner of almost a year. I am grateful I did, he made my experience in Tangier and Morocco immeasurably better. We’ve faced some cultural differences and challenges, of course, but nothing we couldn’t overcome. It’s also frustrating not being able to live in society as freely as we could elsewhere, but it hasn’t stopped us from being happy.

The missing house. More than anything, I miss my friends and family. Even though I chose to live abroad, it doesn’t make it easy to live away from your loved ones. I’m thankful Zoom and texting have kept many of my relationships alive despite the physical distance.

While driving. I miss driving too. Although I have rented a car and driven in Morocco a few times, I don’t drive every day and driving in the city is horrible. I miss the beautiful empty country roads and driving with my windows down and my music playing.

On alcohol. Alcohol is not illegal in Morocco, but it is taboo. That being said, there are liquor stores and some restaurants sell it, although the selection is limited (I miss the craft beer and cider).

But where they lack in beer, Morocco excels in wine. The Middle Atlas region of Morocco has great soil for wine and they produce very good wine. Morocco makes a unique gray wine made from red grapes but in a white wine style that provides a light refreshing alternative to rosé that is a must try. Nice to get a good bottle of wine for $9.

About the worst part of living in Morocco. Lack of freedom. I find it frustrating and kind of surprising how restrictive laws there are for women especially in Morocco or different traditions that exist that make it difficult to express yourself freely or live openly. I took my rights as an American for granted, but now I’m thankful for them. I appreciate being able to take ownership of my life and that I have the freedom to live it the way I want. Although, this is not the case for many people in America to this day, and it is certainly in some ways far from the truth in Morocco.

About the best part of living in Morocco. People. Connecting with new people who have different stories and life experiences is an eye-opening experience. Morocco is such a beautiful country with beautiful people who mean well and made my experience so rewarding.

Thank you very much, Sinclair.

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