Nothing makes me feel that I’ve cracked through the barrier of being a tourist like successfully doing mundane chores of daily life. Like taking the bus, renewing my Maroc Telecom account or picking up a few things at the store.
A high-end grocery chain here is Carrefour, and I’ve been to a few of them. It looks and feels so similar to grocery stores at home, but I was tripped up the first time I tried to buy produce. At the store near my AirBnB in Rabat, I put clementines in my cart, along with a few other essentials like coffee and cookies. But at the checkout, the young woman kindly held up the fruit and said, “No, madame.” She gestured to the register and then to the produce area. I realized there is no price on the clementines and I hurried over to the produce area to see what they cost. Of course, I can’t speak Arabic to tell her what the sign says, so take a picture on my phone and — feeling like a communications genius! — rush back to the register and earnestly hold up my phone to show her. She laughed (kindly) and said again, “No, madame!” and looked to her coworker for help. She hands him the fruit, he made a demonstration of carrying it back to the produce section and showed me the desk where it should weighed, put in a paper sack and affixed with a bar code sticker that shows its price.
I laughed apologetically (I do this a lot here) as he smiled and handed me the small sack, and the cashier laughed as she graciously received it at the register. “Oui, madame! Good!” If there had been a line of people backing up behind me, all of this would have been irritating for everyone, but instead it was a mildly amusing diversion in their afternoon. I stayed in that neighborhood long enough that I went to the store a few times, and I got an approving thumbs up from the two staffers whenever I managed to buy fruit correctly. I feel insanely proud of this accomplishment.
Other grocery store discoveries: Moroccans have an unbelievable variety of dairy products. I thought Americans were going overboard with yogurt choices, but Morocco is on another level. An extremely long refrigerated aisle, floor to ceiling with yogurt in colorful packaging. Except for the pictures of fruit on some of the containers, I have no ability to read the labels so I just buy different kinds to try them out. Same with milk. My first attempt at buying milk for my cereal left me contemplating a bowl of muesli and buttermilk, but I learned from it!
Alcohol is not readily for sale in Moroccan stores. It's not illegal, it's just not common. Some grocery stores that cater toward European tastes have a separate room in the store for liquor, wine and beer, and you pay at a cashier there. This reminds me of Vermont's quirky system of only selling hard liquor in designated state 'stores' that are sometimes inside a regular grocery store. (The Carrefour near me in Marrakech has an alcohol room called La Cave, and when I saw it I thought, "this is just like Mehuron's in Waitsfield!")
At the checkout, they expect you to have a bag with you, but you can buy one for one dirham if you need it. This is a good system, and I'm not sure if it's law, store policy or cultural expectation. Once I understood it, the fruit pricing system also made sense. Why exactly do we put a tiny individual sticker onto every. single. piece. of. produce. only to then peel the sticker off to eat it? One sticker for all the same fruit, slapped onto a paper sack -- not a plastic one.
And finally, the bike parking. I love this. In Marrakech, I would ride a bike to the grocery store, and at the end of the rows of modern sedans and SUVs was a parking attendant who looked after the mopeds, motorcycles and bikes. For one dirham, he would prop my bike against the fat palm tree with a few others and watch after it while I did my shopping. This was also a completely mundane experience that gave me so much joy. Walking out of the store, he'd see me coming (hard to miss the white foreign girl with uncovered hair), and set my bike out for me with a smile. I'd put my bag of groceries in the basket and exchange thank yous with him as if our lives were forever entwined, and pedal off feeling very accomplished.