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Time and Money in Morocco – Matters of Confusion

Much to my surprise, I find myself quite content to be living in a small town in Morocco. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, even to myself, but the fact is that I’m quite enjoying myself here and feel like I’m home for the first time in years.

moroccan dirhamThis isn’t a post about me though, rather it’s a couple of those quirky observations of life that I know Vagobond readers love to read about. It comes from living in Morocco, but the subject matter is something that is so baffling to me, that I can’t explain it at all. As the title clearly states, I am writing about time and money.

I know, on the surface there should be no confusion. Moroccan currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) and it trades for approximately 7.5 dirhams to the U.S. Dollar (USD) or 11 dirhams to the Euro (EUR). This means that it should trade for about 4.4 dirhams for the Turkish Lira (TRY). Clear enough. The dirham is broken up into 100 centimes per dirham.

Moroccan moneySo, one would expect that when you buy something the price would be given in dirhams and centimes such as a loaf of khobz (bread) costs 3 dirhams and 50 centimes or something like 3d50c or three and a half dirhams. Easy right?

Far too easy for the complex Moroccan mind. Don’t forget when you talk about Moroccans, you are talking about people who are born polyglots. Even the least educated of Moroccans speaks Darija, Arabic, and French to some degree plus in the countryside many people speak one or more varieties of Berber (tamizit or amazigh or another). Now, I don’t know if this has anything to do with the confusing state of money or not but here is how it really breaks down.

old moroccan franksEven though the currency is dirhams and centimes, prices are often talked about in terms of franks, ryals, dirhams, centimes, and millions of one or the other depending on the item being discussed. So, in fact the flus (money) of Morocco can be broken into dirhams, franks (even though there haven’t been franks for about 50 years) ryals (same as franks) and centimes.

Moroccan FranksA dirham contains 100 centimes. A dirham also contains 20 ryal. A dirham also contains 100 franks. So to convert franks or centimes to dirhams you divide by 100, to convert ryals to dirhams you divide by 5. Sounds slightly confusing but easy enough. A frank is a centime and a ryal is five centimes. 100 franks = 20 ryal = 100 centimes = 1 dirham. Great.

Then you go to the market. If you are Moroccan, you know that a certain person is Berber and will give the prices in ryal or another person is Fassi and will give the price in franks. If you aren’t Moroccan, you just get numbers thrown at you. Add to this that in general, large ticket items have their prices given in millions or hundreds of thousands of centimes or franks, but also sometimes just to make things difficult they will give the price in ryal. So, for example, let’s say you are buying a hot water heater which would cost 120 Euro if you were in Europe. This is a luxury good here so the markup is to 170 Euro which we will use the common exchange of 10 MAD per Euro and we have a price of 1700 dirhams.

Moroccan moneyWhen you go to the hardware hanoot (store) you see the item you want and you ask the price. The old man at the counter tells you that it is 200,000 franks. You struggle for a moment to remember if franks are the same as centimes or if it is 5 centimes to the franks or if you are mistaking a frank for a ryal (since you have never seen a Moroccan frank or ryal, this is an easy mistake to make). Finally, you ask him the price in ryals to get the difference (just because you are curious) and he tells you 40,000 ryals which sounds much better but is still too much, but at least now you’ve established that the ryal is bigger than the frank so the first price of 200,000 is in centimes (or franks if you prefer). So, you divide the price of 200,000 by 100 and arrive at the price of 2000 dirhams or 200 Euro. It’s too much since you know the price is only 170 Euro but you can’t just tell him the price is 170 Euro or 1700 dirhams or 170000 franks or whatever that might be in ryal. Next you have to make your offer, probably in the neighborhood of 140,000 centimes and then you negotiate and probably you arrive at the price of 170-180 Euro

This was a relatively simple purchase but when you start talking about cars or riads, you need to make sure you have your calculator. Even a trip to the market can be confusing since one vendor lists the price as 10 dirham and another is calling out 200 ryal and a third is saying myatain which is is probably the same, but frankly (hehe) I’m totally confused already.

By the way, you can’t take Moroccan dirham from the country and there are only a handful of currencies you can convert to dirhams in Morocco, one of which is NOT Turkish lira which I learned only after bringing my pay from Turkey to Morocco in Lira…oops. I thought to save from the conversion to Euros and then to dirham, but instead, I have a lot of unspendable money…thankfully, I know people who go to Turkey and come back to Morocco. Although this might be touching on the edges of the black market…

Time in MoroccoAnd then there is the matter of time. Morocco has daylight savings time but it just doesn’t work. Many people don’t know about setting their clocks forward or back and others resent the fact that the government should be involved in something so fundamental as time and so refuse to change their clocks. As a result you have people who are on new time and people who are on old time but when the time changes back again, you have people who change for the first time and people who stay on the old time so, in effect you have a new old time and an old old time and then you have the real time which is a matter of continuous debate if you choose to engage in such a thing ( which I don’t recommend since you can’t possibly win but only become muddled in the process and perhaps buy a carpet before you realize your watch is on a time you didn’t expect it to be). In theory, for half the year everyone should be on the same time but for some reason that doesn’t happen and (god forbid) if you have employees or have hired workers for some reason, don’t expect to understand the reason why they show up an hour late AND leave an hour early, perhaps they find the new time during the middle of the day and revert to the old time when they go home.

If you want to be confused, ask my wife what time she plans to leave her moms in which case she looks at the wall clock and tells me in the time there (old time) and when I ask about whether it is old time or new time, she says ‘real time’ at which point I ask if she means real time for Moroccans or the government and she says ‘the time on my mom’s clock’ by which I know she means the old time which to her is more real than the time I have on my phone which is to me, the real time.

Besides, Moroccan time is essentially the same as Hawaiian time but without the laid back attitude you find in Hawaii-ne. For those unfamiliar, 15-30 minutes late is early, 30-60 minutes late is on time, if you wait more than an hour you will probably be disappointed and today usually means tomorrow but sometimes tomorrow means next week because the built in excuse given by God makes all things acceptable and justifiable – it’s why inchallah is tacked on the end of any statement of time or obligation you may want free of – for example: “I’d love to come to your disco party – inchallah” (translation: God doesn’t really want me to come) or “I’ll have it for you tomorrow – inchallah” (translation: Unless you stand here and make me work on it, it will never be done unless I have nothing else to do) and so on. In fact, I love inchallah since it gives me an easy way to accept the many invitations I don’t want to accept and then just not show up to. I know, completely unacceptable in the Europe or the U.S., but then, this obviously isn’t either place.

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Vago Damitio

Mr. Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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