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Drinking in Morocco

19-03-2020

Dos and don’ts…wheres and where nots

Drinking alcohol in Morocco is forbidden officially. After all, it is a Muslim country and Islam forbids drinking alcohol. But then again, who has not given into temptation at one time or another? Well, for a start many, and I mean many, locals. Without wishing to offend, the bottom line is a lot of alcohol is drunk in Morocco, but behind closed doors and often in a different neighborhood, because it is not cool to have your neighbors or your family seeing you drinking.  

Indeed, it is by no means uncommon to see more than one staggering home through the narrow streets of the medinas at night. It is clear that the prohibitions do not have the desired effect, perhaps if anything the opposite for those rebelling against established laws.

As a Spaniard, the drinking culture, wine, beer and just about anything alcoholic form an integral part of the way we socialize and from childhood lunches to tapas and beach bars we are surrounded by it. Here in Morocco people will generally eat with water or soft drinks and when (generally men) go out to drink, they drink and drink and rarely consume food with their alcohol with the requisite effects that follow.

I still recall a night in Marrakech, right in Jemaa El Fna Square itself – the famous square of snake-charmers and street stalls – seeing a lad just lying there on the ground. People seemed to be giving him a wide berth, oblivious to his pain or suffering. Maybe he had been hurt, been attacked, was there dying. But when I stopped and leant down to help him, those around me uttered – I would leave him to sleep it off. He’s had one too many. He’ll be fine in the morning- nothing a good hangover won’t cure! 

In Marrakech just as in many other places in Morocco, you can buy alcohol at special licenced liquor stores that are authorised by the state – just ask any taxi driver or store owner or even the staff at your hotel or riad to tell you where the nearest is. As you can imagine – having a shop like this is like having the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, although this can make you a target for fundamentalists. Despite that, in general, those with such stores are usually well connected to say the least. 

As a foreigner, there is no stigma whatsoever in heading for one of these shops to pick up crates of beer, and boxes of wine to take out – usually amid a throng of locals, who are not shy of spending a fair amount on their favourite tipple. More than once we have been stopped by the police, and when we say that it is for our foreign guests travelling with us, they usually let us through without any further hassle.

Nevertheless, recently, we went to have a beer at an Erfoud hotel. We had taken the car and, on the way, back, a few miles down the road the police stopped us – something we are used to being a, Moroccan and Spanish couple. They asked if my husband, Ali had been drinking, and without a thought, he replied that yes, of course, to which the local cop replied that he would have to fine him. A long discussion started which luckily for him ended happily as the policeman concluded that above all he had told the truth, an important virtue in Morocco and he let him off with just a warning. The policeman did – but I certainly gave him a piece of my mind about sincerity when the officer was out of earshot. 

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