The value of time in Morocco

By Dr Mohamed Chtatou

 

 

Place Mohammed V in central Casablanca: a tower with a clock

 

Over 10 million tourists have visited Morocco on 2013, it was officially announced to the media by the Minister of Tourism, then, Lahcen Haddad. It is great news for the coffers of the Moroccan treasury and also great news to the politicians: Morocco is land of peace and stability. It is also land of rest and enjoyment. For some it is almost a paradise on earth, for others it is a land of exoticism and orientalism.

Has not General Patton, the famous American war hero of the WWII called it candidly, a land of marriage between the Bible and Hollywood. To my mind he is right given all the films that are made in the country and mainly in Ouarzazate, that tourists dubbed a long time ago, not anymore: “where is that?”, on the Christ, Noah, and all the figures of the Bible, as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, Felix Arabia, to name but a few.

Timeless Morocco

A good American friend of mine told me a while ago, and I believe he is quite sincere, that one of the great things about Morocco is that it seems that the clock ticks slowly and smoothly, meaning that “time takes time,” a metaphor we owe to the late French socialist President François Mitterand in the 80s of the last century.

In Morocco life goes on slowly, especially in the countryside where people take time to enjoy life. Generally speaking, Moroccans take time to live, maybe a bit too much. There is no rat race that you find in the West and certainly not this killing trinity decried with vigor especially in France:  auto/metro, bureau, dodo “car/subway, office,home.”

In this country the common philosophy is stated in the following proverb:

  • L3am twil li bgha yerba7

“One has all the necessary time to make it in life”

For many this sounds like a call for sluggishness and unwillingness to work and depend on others not to say sponge on them.

In Morocco, the society is in principle patriarchal and the family is extended, though the economic constraints of modern life are replacing the latter with a nuclear family, yet in the countryside families are still large. Also, the extended family is resisting the erosion of modernization because of religious influence that encourages solidarity, mutuality and helping each other. This is undoubtedly a great religious teaching and a tremendous human quality to extend a hand to a family member in need. But alas, the reverse of the badge is many a person does nothing for oneself and often relies on a working member of the family for his subsistence. So quite often you have a familial situation where one person provides for many able family members, who instead of looking for work invoke all kind of lame excuses to sleep in and do nothing and sponge on an active family member.

Quite rightly sometimes one wonders if Morocco is not a country of lasy people, people who have no shame to depend on family members rather than work and earn their living.

Nowadays, many retired people from Europe buy property in coastal towns and come to Morocco to enjoy the good weather, the good food and the reputable timelessness of the country and its culture after having worked very hard a whole lifetime in their respective countries.

 

Moroccan shaded souks, a heaven for haggling

 

Life is definitely festive and slow everywhere in this country. In the souks, people take time to buy merchandize and haggle and exchange pleasantries with the shop owner and maybe even sit to have a sugary mint tea and a chat. The artisans and business owners are in no hurry to do business and move on, they want to enjoy time with customers and establish with them durable friendships.

A European friend of mine said jokingly that in European shopping premises you see signs that say; “cash and carry,” for him that means politely “cash and get the hell out” to make room to the next customer, because time is money. In Morocco, he says it is quite the opposite, it is “cash and linger on” and that is why people haggle in the first place. He goes on to say that, at first, the Europeans are annoyed by this habit, but once they discover its social reasons and aims, they indulge in its practice. It is a sophisticated way of establishing social contact beneficial for everyone and also friendships.

Café time

For many Moroccan people, cafés are sacred places. They are at the same time cultural, social and economic institutions and play an important role in the lives of people, they are as important as, say pubs in Britain, except that unlike pubs they are open from 7 am till midnight in many cases. Moroccans say jokingly that “between a café and a café, there is another café.”

Cafés are frequented by people all day, they are a place for watching the whole world go bye and get to know about the habits of people and their desires and hobbies. It is referred to in Moroccan culture as tbergig, a form of spying openly on the other.

The customers of cafés are of three categories:

  • Café dwellers: those who are all day in café either “Waiting for Godot” or whiling away time because either they are unemployed or they are an a special human species that hate work and live off a family member;
  • Those who use cafés as premises for doing business: striking a deal, looking for juicy business opportunities, or acting as intermediaries, known in Moroccan culture as samsar and looked down upon by the people for their unorthodox practices and ways bordering on cheating and deceit at times;
  • Students: Some cafés allow students to use cafés to do homework or revise their lessons in groups provided they buy a drink every two hours; and
  • Youth in love: Rendezvous, hugging or kissing in public are considered taboo by both the culture and the religion. So for young people in love to meet they go to cafés. And cafés have a sort of mezzanine for them to use provided they have a café and pastry. So in these rosy environments you encounter students but also ladies who are seeking to provide sexual favors or escort services to locals or foreigners.

 

Beyond these daily customers, there are football fans that frequent cafés when there are Champion Leagues, World Cup or national soccer team competition matches. For these special occasions, café owners rearrange the tables and chairs configuration in the café space and make use of large screen TVs besides charging double or triple for drinks. Even if soccer diehards have TV screens in their homes, they prefer to watch these matches in cafés because they offer stadium ambiance and as such they can scream, chant and even curse, if they feel like it.

For many Moroccans, the cafés are commercial institutions that provide people with “virtual weapons” to “assassinate time” rather than use it aptly to improve their lives and help the country advance. Some even believe that if cafés are outlawed, people will get on their bicycles and go look for work and that is good for individuals and families and of course the country.

 

A Moroccan outdoor café, to while away time and watch the world go by

 

 Time pieces

In Europe, right after the Renaissance, time was given lot of interest and as such it became a very important cultural and economic concept. Thus artisans took to making time pieces of all sizes from pocket ones to large clocks, so many of which were fitted into large buildings, like Big Ben, to remind everyone with their loud chimes of time and its importance in everyday life.

The rich collected time pieces to decorate their castles and residences and almost put one in every room and the middle class used them to organize their lives and their work. As such punctuality became very important in life and every institution, be it cultural, political, economic or else made use of time and made it a golden rule to respect time schedules.

In Morocco, time pieces and time schedules were unknown before the arrival of the French in 1912 apart from the fact that the Alouite Sultan Moulat Abdelaziz who reigned from 1894 to 1908 was an eternal adolescent monarch and a declared lover of time pieces and, thus, spent lots of public money collecting them besides all kind of “toys” such as trains, cars and telephones.

 

Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz ( 1878 -1943,) an inveterate lover of clocks

 

When the French Protectorate (1912-1956) set up a modern administration, they logically set up time obligations. Offices had to open and close on precise times and civil servants had to discharge their functions at certain specific times on working days. The same was obviously true for the private sector; banks, shops, train stations, hospitals, etc.

But though most Moroccans own times pieces:  watches, clocks, computers and smart phones, yet they have very little respect for punctuality. People usually come late for rendezvous and consider such a behavior very normal and, as such, do not even apologize. Official and an official functions always start hours late than what is indicated on the official invitation and schedule on the grounds that officials arrive always late. It seems, indeed, that these people consider such an uncivil behavior as a privilege of their position and consider it, also, as an action that shows their importance and rank within government and society.

Romancing lateness

In the administration time is strictly lose and of no importance. Civil servants customarily arrive late and finish work an hour before official closing time. In the meantime, they spend a lot of time in coffee or lunch breaks or chat on their smart phones and, also, watch movies or television in the PC. Basically, it seems that Moroccan civil servants work probably two solid hours at the most during a daily workload of 8 official hours. When you ask them why they do not honor their work hours, they often say they are under paid and that is why they “under work” as it were. Under the pressure of the World Bank, the Moroccan government is considering introducing work contracts to coarse functionaries to do their work in the administration, schools, etc.

 

Moroccan administration

Most Moroccans seem to have this cultural habit of been late and blaming the world for it and not themselves:

  • Msha 3liya toubis/tran/lcar/tram

“The bus/train/Tram left (on me) without me (blaming the means of transportation for the lateness.)”

The worst in this situation is that this lame excuse is accepted by officials and society and such a behavior perpetuates the lack of punctuality within society and many consider lateness as a show of strength of personality. It is like if the late person makes the boss, the administration, society and the public at large accept unquestionably his/her irresponsibility: a sort of ridiculous power game.

Moroccans romance lateness but the same time make fun of it and denounce it openly. People often make jokes about lateness being synonymous of under development but, alas, do nothing to put an end to it.

A common Moroccan joke has it that a European coming to Morocco to do business was told about lateness in the country. So he was waiting  at the train station for a train supposed to arrive at midday, the train indeed arrived on time, he was baffled and thought that all he was told was mere stereotyping. So, he got on the train, sat next to a Moroccan young man and engaged in a conversation:

  • Hello, I was told that trains in Morocco arrive late but this one was sharp  on time.

The youth responded with a chuckle:

  • This train was supposed to be here midday yesterday …hhhhhh.

Final word

Moroccans glorify very often punctuality and time in their discussions and linguistic expressions (proverbs):

  • Fiya9 bekri b dhab mashri (Moroccan Arabic)

“The early bird gets the worm”

 

  • Li fatek b lila, fatek b 7ila (Moroccan Arabic)

“He who is punctual is more efficient”

 

  • Al-wa9t min dahab in lam ta9ta3hou 9ata3ek (Standard Arabic)

« Time is money »

but unfortunately this does not reflect on their behavior and philosophy. However, modern management practices require punctuality and respect of time. Will Moroccans adhere to this attitude and way of life to take off economically speaking or continue with their time-old ridiculous habits of lateness and time wasting that perpetuate their backwardness and under development?

Only time will show.

 

 

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

 

 

 

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