So you might think that Arabic is too confusing: It’s written right to left; it has letters that look like swoops and swirls; and there are sounds that you don’t have in your native language. Well, that may be so—but you are in Morocco, and the language of choice is Arabic. True, it’s not even Modern Standard Arabic (which, if you are lucky, you may have studied in school). No, the primary language in Morocco is Darija, an Arabic dialect with about a 50-percent similarity to standard Arabic. But don’t get discouraged: If you’re traveling to Morocco, this is the perfect opportunity to stretch the grey matter and pick up some key phrases. The benefits: You’ll get better deals in the souks and you’ll also get to know the people better. Most people working in Marrakesh’s old city are multi-lingual and will speak French and even some English. Depending on where you go, though, here are some key phrases that you can have at the ready:
At the Jemma el Fna
At these food and juice stalls, you’ll want some important phrases that any kindergartener should know: please and thank you. When ordering at the stalls, employ afek (“please”) and shukran (“thank you”) when ordering. You can also add in la deed (“delicious”) if you want to earn a smile.
At the Medina souks
Known as gifted bargainers, the shop owners in the medina souks have one huge advantage: time. You, on the other hand, are in Marrakech for only a few days, and need to optimize yours. Cut to the chase quickly and tell them if you feel the price is really rally bizef (“too expensive”).
At a café
Searching for caffeine? I understand. And you want your java half coffee-half milk? A popular way to drink it in Marrakesh is noos-noos (“half and half”). Or perhaps you’d rather order the ubiquitous shay Maghrebi—a.k.a Moroccan mint tea.
At a Moroccan restaurant
I was once told that, at a Moroccan restaurant, you can tell the number of courses to be served by counting the stacked tablecloths. After each course, another cloth would be peeled away. When you have had enough food and feel like exploding, the phrase to use is safi or baraka (“enough”).
When taking a taxi
It’s standard etiquette to bark out your destination when entering a taxi in New York City, but Marrakesh has some civility, you know. People greet each other, no matter the situation. A kind labess? (“how are you”) is always appreciated. Don’t forget beslama (“goodbye”) when you’re out the door.