Guillaume, a young French banker from Marseilles, tells us about his initial experience working in Casablanca, Morocco.
I was pretty excited when I got the proposition to move to Morocco for two years to help open the new branch of our bank in Casablanca. Upon hearing “Casablanca”, I immediately thought of the famous movie and romantic characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, which I later discovered not a single scene of had been filmed here! In my imagination, I saw myself living in a stylish villa from the 1920s or 1930s, spending evenings strolling along the beach, or chatting with other expats in cafes and clubs.
It was decided that it would be best that I begin the contract just after the main summer vacation in France, in September.
No one was aware that one week later Ramadan, the religious month of fasting in Islamic culture, would start. During this period devout Muslims can neither eat nor drink from sunrise till sunset. As a result, life revolves more around night and people sleep during the day, so sometimes it was difficult to persuade our employees to come to work in the morning. And I must say, at the beginning it was not easy to get breakfast either!
During my second or third week in Casablanca, I had to go to Rabat, the capital of Morocco for a short business trip. It was possible to go by train, but since the bus station was closer to our bank, I decided to travel by bus.
When I arrived at the station, I saw ticket salesmen shouting the names of the larger Moroccan cities. I approached the one who shouted “Rabat” and asked him when the bus to Rabat leaves. He answered “now”. Lucky me, I thought, my trip starts better than I expected! I bought a ticket and took a seat in the bus. I looked around: the bus was almost full, there were many families with kids, and in the aisle young boys were selling tissues, souvenirs, lighters, and so on. After about 15 minutes the driver turned the engine on. And then almost half of the people from the bus got off (young salesmen, husbands just seeing their wives off, etc.), so we had to wait another 20 minutes… I started to understand that there is no set schedule or departure time here, the bus leaves when it is full.
I started to wonder how people manage to be on time if they cannot even plan their trip accordingly, but then I thought that for them “being on time” has a different meaning. Many Europeans hate waiting, it’s a waste of time for them, while quitea few Moroccans don’t really mind. They know that if someone says they will come, they will – sooner or later.
In Morocco one also goes by word of mouth; that is to say you believe people when they say something. Accusing someone of lying is a huge offence. As a result, Moroccans often do not need a written contract if someone gave them his/her word, be it for a job, a car, a bicycle or a promise to pay someone back. Obviously this traditional Moroccan style is changing as the contact to Europeans is increasing. For example, CTM, the oldest bus company in Morocco, has a timetable which you can check on their website, and people do sign employment contracts. But sometimes, like in the back of that bus on my trip, you can get a glimpse of what doing business in Morocco must have been like a couple of decades ago!
I came back from that trip just in time for the Ramadan “breakfast” at sunset: the traditional harira, a soup with chickpeas, beef, tomatoes and onions, followed by dried fruits and nuts, pastries, and hot sweet tea! The best part of the day was about to begin!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.