How can I prove to my paranoid father that Morocco is a safe enough place for a family vacation?
April 4, 2008 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Help me prove to my paranoid father that Morocco is a tolerably safe family vacation destination.

I'm studying abroad in southern Spain for the semester, and my mom and I want to take the whole crew (2 parents, me, an 18 year old, a 14 year old, and a 10 year old) to Morocco when my family comes to visit me in June. My father, however, is somewhat paranoid about traveling in a North African Muslim country - especially since we have a Jewish last name. It doesn't help that the American consulate in Casablanca was bombed last year, and that kidnappings are apparently a substantial risk in neighboring Algeria. However, he told me that if I can prove to his satisfaction that it's safe enough for the whole family, we can go. I've checked the U.S. State Dept. website, which was not terribly helpful - it listed general travel advisories and warnings to avoid obviously American establishments, but no information immediately useful to tourists. Does anyone have any information about

1) Which Moroccan destinations are safest for American tourists, but still interesting
2) General advice about the safety of traveling as a large, potentially obnoxious American family in Morocco
3) Experience as a Jewish or apparently Jewish person traveling in Morocco

posted by slowcat to Travel & Transportation around Morocco (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Re 2) - The best advice I have is don't be obnoxious.

Be patient, polite, and keep smiling no matter what, particularly when you have trouble been understood, I haven't been to Morocco but been friendly pretty much universally goes a long way.

Oh, and unless there is very specific travel advice, I wouldn't worry about it, I've read travel advice for the UK (Where I live) and was scared by that!!!
posted by paulfreeman at 6:30 AM on April 4, 2008

My brother (an obnoxious American) and his (obnoxious American) friends did a trip to Morocco while he's in Luxembourg this semester. He was incredibly nervous. They were "followed" from the airport to their hotel by a youngish Moroccan guy, who after confirming with the hotel they found out was kind of a tour guide who worked more or less for the hotel. He took them around for their two days there -- camel rides, trips to the markets, buying rugs, finding good restaurants, even finding where some of the other Americans were -- and he had a fantastic time. He thought it was totally sketchy to begin with, but finding this "guide" made him a lot more comfortable and probably got him seeing more than he would have on his own. See if whatever hotel you want to stay with has guides like this that you can hire for the time you're there?
posted by olinerd at 6:31 AM on April 4, 2008

Paranoia is irrational, you can't do much about it on a rational level. It's like talking someone out of their love for someone else, you can't really do that, it works on emotional levels you can't reach rationally
posted by matteo at 7:04 AM on April 4, 2008

(not that Jews don't have very serious reasons to be paranoid anyway, don't misunderstand me. they sure do. I'm just saying that you can't do much about it)
posted by matteo at 7:06 AM on April 4, 2008

I've been to Morocco twice with the family. They were great trips, but I don't think any of us plan to return anytime soon.

I don't think you guys need to worry about your personal safety beyond the usual precautions when traveling in a poor-ish country: keep your money and personal affairs close to hand, hidden, and difficult to grab away; don't bring anything expensive; be careful with the drinking water.

However, Morocco is one of the worst places I've ever been for people trying to sell you stuff CONSTANTLY. It's just unrelenting, and is a big reason no one in my family is particularly interested in return trips even though it's one of the prettiest countries we've been to, the food was great, and everyone was so friendly. After a two week trip, you just get exhausted with all the haggling and telling people no, seriously, you don't want their stuff, you don't care how much of a "bargain" (hint: not actually bargains) you're being offered, you are DONE.

(Although it was cool that time Dad was dumb enough to stop the car and help two guys stranded by the road in the middle of nowhere. We ended up carrying a message to their brother in the next town over. It turned out they were Tuareg caravaners, and the brother was so grateful that he invited us in for tea and soft drinks and sold us some jewelry at "caravan prices" (hint: not actually "caravan prices," but that's okay, really, we were tourists, it's kind of the way things are done there). He also told us if we ever had an urge to go caravanning across the desert on camels, we should totally go with his family, and I'm not entirely sure my Dad won't take him up on the offer sometime...)

Anyway, summary: no, I wouldn't worry about personal safety, but the economic system is basically set up take money from tourists and keep taking it. Be braced for that, and you're all good. I would definitely recommend that anyone who can afford the trip go at least once and prepare to haggle their brains out.

(Caveat: my family is half white/European and half Asian, not Jewish, so about as bad as it could get racial stereotyping-wise is that people would try to speak Japanese to my mother. I can't speak to the religion thing, and that may be a legit concern.)
posted by bettafish at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2008

2) General advice about the safety of traveling as a large, potentially obnoxious American family in Morocco

You can't stop being American. You can stop being obnoxious. Don't be obnoxious. Don't assume people speak English. Learn how to say vital things in French (hello, thank you, etc., and any special needs such as allergies).

Carry a roll of toilet paper wherever you go, as it can be difficult to find public restrooms. (In one restaurant, I asked if there was any toilet paper for the public bathroom, and I was offered a paper napkin.)

3) Experience as a Jewish or apparently Jewish person traveling in Morocco

I traveled to Morocco with a group of 6 young people, 4 of whom are Jewish, and all of whom are white. Three of us, including me, have the the same obviously Jewish last name (no relation between any of us). This was a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the week or so I was there, I didn't encounter anti-Semitism. I've encountered, or heard of friends encountering, anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe, but not in Morocco (that I noticed).

At one point when I happened to be walking around on my own, I stopped on the sidewalk to look at a map. I must have looked very confused, because many of the people passing by suddenly started asking me if I needed any help. Of course, as with any country, I can't assure you that there's no bigotry, and you should definitely read up about the many hucksters in Morocco. But that was my experience.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:27 AM on April 4, 2008

Hm, a's hard for parents to accept that their kids might know more about something than they do. It's good that you've got Mom on your side, though - she'll wear him down eventually. :) It might also be tough if this is your dad's first trip to the developing world; he'll probably see some things which might surprise or shock him, and that might be a reason why he's (subconsciously) resisting this.

A few brief notes:

- Easyjet and Ryanair, two European low-cost carriers (like Southwest), fly to Fez and Marrakech; because those two places are now not that difficult to get to for Europeans, I would imagine that being American wouldn't really raise any eyebrows there
- Morocco is in the New York Times and Guardian travel sections all the time
- Morocco is a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States and has free trade agreements with the EU and the US
- This site has heaps of details about sites of Jewish interest in Morocco and more details on the Jewish experience there

My biggest recommendation is to head to the library, though. If your dad is the sort that would like to read up on the history of the place, perhaps get him a book or two about the history and culture of Morocco. It would be strange to lump Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Morocco (say) into the same category because they're all majority-Muslim, and learning about the diversity of Morocco might help him see that traveling there and seeing the sights along a pretty well-beaten path (Europeans have been going there for decades) won't put his (or your) safety at risk.

One final note: I've traveled in all sorts of places with dubious claims to human rights and democracy (Togo, China, etc.), but the friendliness of the people I've met - tour guides, drivers and conductors, shop and restaurant owners, just locals - has overwhelmed any official hassle or buffoonery. If you're a somewhat relaxed family with a few kids and you're traveling around, I don't see why your trip would be anything less safe than that of the thousands of other families who go there every year.
posted by mdonley at 7:30 AM on April 4, 2008

You could point out that it's such a common tourist destination for we citizens of the UK (America's no.1 ally cum lapdog) that several of our low-cost airlines fly there and property shows on buying abroad regularly feature it. You might also want to point out that you are roughly 10 times more likely to be murdered in the US (Morocco has 0.47 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the US, 5.9).

Although you may wish to avoid this.
posted by rhymer at 7:31 AM on April 4, 2008

I was in Morocco last summer, and am also jewish. No hassles whatsoever about my religion.

What you may not be aware of is the significant Jewish population that used to inhabit the city. Fez has a great jewish quarter, as does Marrakesh. Casablanca has a very cool jewish museum (call to make sure it is open), and is also the place where I bargained with a vendor to get an antique menorah which is filled by oil for under $20US. The locals are very friendly towards everyone, jewish or not, and I expect you would have no issues whatsoever.
posted by evadery at 7:40 AM on April 4, 2008

Oh, forgot one thing: for a brief portion of our trip we had a Moroccan tour guide drive us around town, and he made a point of telling us that Morocco is very friendly with Israel. He was very emphatic about this. We hadn't mentioned Israel or being Jewish or anything.

You could also point out that there are Christians in Morocco, though they're a minority. Then again, Arabs are also a minority in Morocco.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:53 AM on April 4, 2008

I used to live there, have travelled extensively all over the country and was married to a Moroccan for 10 years, so I am either biaised or experienced. Morocco is one of the safest countries to travel to in the Arab/Muslim world as well as Africa. The Jewish thing is a total non-issue; like anywhere in the world, if you are looking for intolerant people you will find them. Morocco had a big Jewish population which mostly emigrated to Israel; Moroccan muslims may not like what Israel is doing in Palestine but they don't hate Jews in general. The ones in the tourist trades realize that a lot of American and European Jews like to go to Morocco to see how Moroccan Jews used to live, so they are more than willing to take your money regardless of their beliefs.

As for being American (are you?), they are also savvy enough to know that Americans are not Bush; people all over the world are living in countries where their governments do not represent them or care about them so they will be sympathetic to Americans for that reason. They have a lot of sympathy for the American people esp. after 9/11 because they have also had bombings by muslim fundamentalists. Morocco is a very moderate muslim country and the majority of the people are as afraid of Al Qaeda as we are.

The dress code there is pretty laid back; there are women (mostly older) who wear a head scarf and some who veil their faces, but the young women in the main cities dress like young women in Europe and America. Moroccans don't expect foreign women to wear a scarf or veil themselves but don't go to the other extreme and wear shorts and tube tops; they won't stone you but it's just tacky and disrespectful.

Moroccans are laid back, funny, warm, hospitable on the good side; just be the same way back and you'll be fine. When you are facing them in a store and bargaining over a price they drive a hard bargain, but again, just have fun with it. You will find that Moroccans, esp. in the tourist industry, make great effort to speak foreign languages; speaking French will help but a lot of people will speak English and Spanish.
posted by kenzi23 at 9:46 AM on April 4, 2008

If he would be uncomfortable there, nervous, then even if it was an incorrect reaction on his part, it would mean he wouldn't enjoy himself.

So maybe, for that reason alone, even if you think his reaction would be wrong, you should nonetheless consider a different destination, one where he would feel better.
posted by Class Goat at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2008

Since you mentioned the US State Department I thought I'd also go check out its travel page up for US citizens considering traveling abroad.

Here's the page on Morocco. Among other things, it states:
  • The potential for terrorist violence against American interests and citizens remains high in Morocco.
  • Moroccan authorities continue to disrupt groups seeking to attack U.S. or Western-affiliated and Moroccan government targets, arresting numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups.
  • With indications that such groups still seek to carry out attacks in Morocco, it is important for American citizens to be keenly aware of their surroundings and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile.
  • All U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and be vigilant regarding their personal security and report any suspicious incidents or problems immediately to Moroccan authorities and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
And here's a message about the anti-American suicide bombings in Casablanca that occurred a year ago almost to the day.

I have to say that I'm with your dad on this - I would really think twice about traveling to Morocco with a Jewish name on an American passport. Hate is not just a joke or merely a politically incorrect topic that can be debated in college classrooms; people are dying in North Africa and the Middle East by the hundreds and thousands daily because of it. You too can die; it only takes one bullet, one suicide bomber, one good whack on the head with a stick.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:40 AM on April 5, 2008

ikkyu2, would you also advise people with American passports and Jewish last names from traveling to Israel? I hear they have suicide bombings there too.
posted by fingo at 2:33 PM on April 6, 2008

posted by fingo at 2:34 PM on April 6, 2008

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