Cultural differences

Morocco is one the most developed countries in Africa, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it is similar to other developed countries we know in western culture. The prologue describes a series of typical Moroccan events. In this chapter is described how this can influence both the execution of the project and the future use of the Fortune Cooker.

We immediately experienced that Moroccans are very polite in upbringing, and that guests are treated as royalty. Consider Latifa, who decided we should take another bus to have a luxurious lunch with them or Bekay, who served us tea before even making a phone call to Farida. This hospitality made us feel extremely welcome in Morocco. We also experienced that a quick visit to anyone in Morocco is nearly impossible, because the hostess will serve you her very best treats and guests are obliged to go through all pleasantries, like asking about the hostess’ health and family, before getting to the point.

This hospitality is not only recognisable in house visits, but in any encounter. It is rude to have a snack in public and not offer it to the people around you, to walk by someone you know in the street without starting a conversation, or to greet someone without questioning their state of being – even though the answer will always be that their state of being depends on God’s will. The result of these social commitments, is that all encounters take more time than we’re used to in the Netherlands. Even walking in the streets is something that cannot be done efficiently. Given that all encounters take more time, for each visit we counted minimally twice, or sometimes thrice, as much time than would have been needed in our own environment.

The importance of food in Moroccan culture is as grand as we had expected. The amount of food that is served to guests is a good indicator of this, but it can be seen in the daily routine as well. Women spend a great part of their day preparing food, and recipes of the meals they make have been passed on from mother to daughter for as long as they know. The fact that many women spend a lot of time in the kitchen gave us many possibilities to observe and perform tests during the project. The downside of the rich food culture is that both the preparation and eating of a meal takes a lot of time, and that many dishes are difficult to impossible to prepare on the Fortune Cooker. Moreover, the importance of food in combination with Moroccan hospitality made it difficult for us to observe day-to-day cooking. Whenever guests arrive a hostess is obliged to serve the best she has to offer, whereas she might prepare simpler meals on a regular weekday.

You might have guessed by now that all meals are prepared by women. Our project plan described the masculinity of Morocco compared to the Netherlands, partially because of the large differences between men and women. Latifa for example had to stop her education because the daily trip to school became too risky, due to the construction workers at the new building sites along the way. A woman’s reputation is easily harmed, even though there are no lawful limitations for women anymore. The way in which the Fortune Cooker Project is constructed, requires many house visits and it is therefore that our group consists of three women. The gender of the translator was of great importance too. Men are generally better educated, but cannot enter a woman’s private atmosphere. A Dutch friend’s grandfather, who was prepared to translate for free, was therefore not able to help us out.

Seeing that French is the second language of the region we would be performing our research in, we revived our French to our best abilities before going to Morocco. When arrived in Morocco, we were perfectly able to make simple conversations with those who spoke French. Unfortunately there are also a lot of people – of  whom many are in our target group – who do not speak French at all. Therefore we almost always needed a translator. Furthermore, most Moroccans in the region l’Oriental speak Moroccan Arabic, which differs from the Classic Arabic they learn in school. The Arabic language has many references to Allah and expressions mostly tend to be very poetic compared to straightforward Dutch or English. A simple question from us to a translator could therefore not always be simply answered.

An often used expression in Arabic is InshaAllah, meaning ‘if it is God’s intention’. Every time an appointment is made InshaAllah is added to the conversation, in order to express that a humble person can hope to make plans, but it is God who decides on the turn of events. Ninety-nine percent of the Moroccan population is Islamic, and that can be directly recognised in daily life. The sounds of prayer can be heard everywhere five times a day, and everyone trusts in God’s will. This might have been the biggest cultural difference for us, because we are very used to accomplishing goals with a tight schedule and clear agreements. Making plans for the near future was possible, but InshaAllah kept reminding us to the fact that we could not count on it. Long-term plans with test persons were impossible to make, because they act based on the current circumstances and they do not know whether the circumstances will be fitting to help you in, say, two weeks. The project plan states this as well, as the cultural analysis pointed out that Moroccan rates on long term orientation are extremely low. During our stay we became more and more aware of this ‘lack’ of long term orientation, so we decided to spend less time on planning and be more flexible, for example by using a lists of actions and goals for a specific week instead of a time planning.

The Cultural Analysis of the Project Plan (Appendix 3) also states that Moroccan culture is very collectivistic and we acknowledge this by the fact that everyone was extremely helpful. Like Mohammed who immediately called the carpenter to help us or Farida’s family who took care of her during her illness. Because we were on tight budget, we had to be creative with our resources during the project. The experience that a helping hand is everywhere to be found, made it significantly easier for us to do this.  

All of the findings above, and many more that are too much to describe, lead to a better understanding of whether or not Morocco can be described as a Civil Society. The definition of a Civil Society is a ‘regrouping of individuals and organizations independent of family loyalty and state authority’. As our project completely revolves about women, we evaluate the presence of a Civil Society in Morocco by evaluating women’s roles in this society. Considering that there is a growing number of women employed in high positions within the business world, Morocco is getting closer to being a Civil Society. However, in our eyes, it is not there yet. Even though there are more and more women’s organizations and the government is improving women’s rights, there are still many women who prepare all the meals on a daily base, which disables them to do other things during the day. Thus, these organizations have a low attendance level, especially in the winter when the women should be home by dark. We ourselves noticed the fact that most of the women stay at home, when we went outside. We saw almost solely men on the streets, in the restaurants and in cafes. In this way family loyalty and the roles within the family could hinder the participation in Civil Society Organizations.

Moroccan customs did have a large influence on the turn of events during the project, but are most essential to the Fortune Cooker as a product. Our mission states – among other things – that we want to adapt the Fortune Cooker to the wishes and values of the user. The understanding of the potential customer’s culture is essential to adapt the product sufficiently. The following chapters describe how we performed our research to achieve this mission.