Although Moroccans have an official currency - the dirham - they also have an informal currency - the riyal and so, buying vegetables or fruit in a Moroccan souk can sometimes be extremely confusing, even for people who have spent a lot of time in the country and understand the local language 
You see a sign saying (for example) pomegranates  are 15 dirhams a kilo. You ask for a kilo and the store holder says that will be 300! What he has done is quote the price in riyals, rather than dirhams. The fact that riyals don't actually exist anymore is not important, but that people think in them. To make matters more confusing, you can also be told a price in francs.

Matthew Schumann, a Fulbright Scholar, explains the system.

 There are two currency systems used in Morocco. One is that of the dirham, the official Moroccan currency that is printed on bills and coins. The other currency is the riyal, an old Moroccan currency which is no longer exists, but is still used by Moroccans to value purchases both small and large. 1 dirham is equal to 20 riyals. In other words, the riyal is to the dirham, as the nickel is to the dollar.

Only, imagine that nickels no longer existed in reality, but stayed in our minds as a way to describe the prices of things. So, the money in your pocket would be dollars, and you would use dollars to buy everything, but you think of prices in nickels. Understanding the relationship between dirhams and riyals is key to making sense of Morocco's marketplaces. Knowing that sometimes the prices you hear are riyals and not dirhams can save you both money and frustration.

  If the riyal were American...

 Imagine that when you go to the store, the prices are listed in dollars but in your head you value everything in nickel. When you see the label on a $3.50 gallon of milk you think, "That's worth 70 nickels". In your mind, a $4.00 loaf of bread is 80 nickels. At the mall, you ask a clerk how much a pair of jeans is worth. He tells you it's 600 nickels and you check the tag which reads $30. Every month your cell phone bill is 1600 nickels and your gym membership costs 1000 nickels. You got a great price on your new Prius, only paying 440,000 nickels. You live in Colorado and can't believe that your friends in pay 36,000 nickels a month for a 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. This is exactly how the riyal exists alongside the dirham in Morocco, and they are used in such a way in some of the same situations described above.

When riyals are used instead of dirhams:

 Buying fruits, vegetables and other foods in the souq, especially foods sold by the kilo. For example, while the price of potatoes might be listed on a sign as 6 dirhams a kilo, the vendor may state the price as 120 riyals. Buying used clothing and other used goods in the souq. Walking through a used clothing market you frequently hear prices in the hundreds. A pair of jeans might be 600, a sweater 400. But those are riyals not dirhams.

 For small purchases whose totals are less than a dirham or include change. For example instead of saying something is 1.50 dirhams one would say 30 riyals. For apartment rent and other similar big purchases. Moroccans will describe their rent in the tens of thousands of riyals. 20,000 a month is 1000 dirhams, 40,000 is 2,000 dirhams. Sometimes these values are abbreviated to Buying from or selling to illiterate or uneducated people. At least 40% of Moroccan cannot read or write. They still use paper money and coins but cannot understand their printed value in dirhams and rather understand them in their riyal value.

When riyals are not used:

Supermarkets and other 'fancy' stores do not use riyals. Supermarkets have to be precise with their pricing and will give change down to the centeme, the equivalent of a penny. Boutiques and touristy stores will also use dirhams. Taxi meters are in dirhams and the decimals are centemes. Taxi fares are always rounded up or down to the nearest dirham. Any price in a newspaper or magazine, or in an advertisement will be in dirhams.

 Real Estate purchases, if not described in riyals, is also described in centemes. So it's not uncommon to hear prices in the millions and tens of millions. If a price sounds too high, convert it into either riyals or centemes, and ask for clarification.

  How to convert riyals to dirhams and vice versa

 To go from dirhams to riyals multiply by 20, and to go from riyals to dirhams divide by 20. This video features Moroccans describing the prices of various goods in riyals. Watching this video will help you to familiarize yourself with the riyal and will give you an opportunity to practice convert between riyals and dirhams in your head.


Want to learn more about Morocco and Moroccan Arabic? Click here for a list of  Moroccan Arabic lessons.

  Matt Schumann is a Fulbright, English Teacher at the S.M. Ben-Abdellah University in Fes, Morocco. He is a graduate of Rice University . He worked as the Editor in Chief and Publisher of the the Rice Standard magazine. He is familiar with the world of journalism and online media and writes on current issues.

  Reposted with permission:    More from Matt here

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Moroccan News Update

A round up of the week's news including Ramadan TV programming

Arabic Programme to Relocate From Egypt to Morocco

The Arabic Overseas Flagship Program is relocating from Alexandria, Egypt to Meknes, having determined that restrictions in place to ensure students’ safety were undermining opportunities for informal language and cultural learning.

The unrest in Egypt looks set to continue for some time and with the fatal stabbing of an American college student in Alexandria the U.S. State Department has warned against non-essential travel to Egypt in light of the growing political and social unrest, prompting universities to reevaluate their study abroad programs there.

Dan Davidson, the president of the American Councils for International Education, which administers the program, said, “In recent days, it had become clear that in order to guarantee the safety of our students in Egypt, it had become necessary to establish curfews and limitations on their movements including escort and shuttle arrangements to and from classes at the university,. This means that the students were essentially having to give up many of the kinds of informal language contacts and cultural exploration that overseas immersion study is designed to provide,”

The program's Egyptian partner institution, Alexandria University, will be transferring some of its language teachers to Morocco to continue working with students.

The year long Arabic Overseas Flagship Program began in early June and involves 18 students from five U.S. universities. The Flagship language programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program.

American Schools and Universities in Morocco to be Licensed

The Moroccan press is reporting that the Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane,  is about to "tighten the screws" on American schools operating in Morocco.

Abdelilah Benkirane's government will finalise a Moroccan-American draft convention, that will lay out strict regulations on the operation in Morocco of schools and American universities.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation will bring the draft convention forward for debate in government.  Under the terms of the agreement, the Ministry would give licenses to American schools American universities with no religious curriculum, and that avoid Christian proselytizing activities even in a subliminal way.

American schools will also be required to provide compulsory courses on the languages, cultures and history of Morocco. To do this they will be required to employ Moroccan teachers authorized by the Moroccan Ministry of National Education, and subject to inspections.

The annual holiday schedule will not be defined by only American holidays, but must also include all Moroccan national and religious holidays.

A pure Arabic prayer room will be required in all institutions. According of the terms of this new draft Moroccan-American agreement, the tuition in these schools must be paid by the parents of Moroccan students in Dirhams and not Dollars.

There will also be strict guidelines about the teaching of Moroccan geography with a special requirement that the American institutions must use complete maps of Morocco and not ones with the area of Moroccan Sahara amputated. The comes at a time when there is pressure on both Google Maps and Facebook to correct their maps to include the Sahara. To this end there is also an online petition.

A map of Morocco - "Correct and intact"

The correction of maps is deemed very important for the defense, protection and respect of Morocco’s territorial integrity and complies with the article 38 of the constitution which states that “all citizens contribute to the defense of the country and its territorial integrity against any aggression or threat.”

The activists behind this cause, which was launched on June 29th, seek to attain 1,000,000 signatures. They also call on all Moroccan internet users to upload the official, correct and intact map of Morocco on all digital platforms on the internet so that it can become a reference in all major search engines.

Acts of bravery in Marrakech explosions

This week a series of explosions occurred in Marrakech's Azli district when a truck loaded with butane gas canisters caught fire.  Several sources have indicated that the truck driver and his helper were carrying dozens of gas tanks for distribution to retail merchants during a period of extremely high temperature.

They noticed their mirrors that a gas canisters was smoking and may have caught fire. The situation was very dangerous because a huge and deadly explosion could have taken place at any moment.

However, by mutual agreement, the driver and his mate decided to drive the truck as far as possible, to avoid the inhabited parts of Azli neighborhood. At the risk of their lives, the two men remained in the truck their until they reached an empty area. Just as they arrived in an open area the gas cylinders began to explode causing a huge "mushroom of fire".  Fortunately the men were not injured and there were no other casualties.

Morocco cleans up its highways

The National Motorway Authority of Morocco (ADM) have announced that by 2015 all highways will be equipped with recycling platforms in 2015 (WMD).  The first equipment for selective waste collection has already begun to be deployed.

On the outskirts of motorways and service areas, the amount of waste collected each year is 3,000 tons, said the ADM in a statement, noting that this amount includes several categories of recyclable waste, including bottles water, soda cans, paper and cardboard.

A trial by ADM was implemented in January 2013  with the building of an ecological platform for sorting and compaction of waste collected on the outskirts of the Rabat to Larache highway. The first results from this site showed a positive impact on waste management with the recycling of a significant part of the waste products.

Art Culture and Ramadan TV

As in previous years, the three main channels of Moroccan television have placed their bets on comedy to fill their programming of Ramadan.

Al Aoula's latest announcement includes three comedy series for the sacred month: Rass Rass lmahyen starring Kamal Kadimi and Ilham Ouaziz,  Danya Hanya which tells "the story of four young roommates from different cultures starting their working lives in Casablanca", and Hniya, M'barek and Messoud.

For his part, 2M announces the return with great fanfare a "dynamic duo" comic for the month of Ramadan. This is Khadija Assad and her husband Aziz Saadallah. Both actors will star in a new sitcom entitled Dour biha chibani ago. Another couple will also be featured on the small screen through a series of 30 episodes of 3 minutes each. Hassan El Fad and Dounia Boutazout will interpret a "couple" like no other.

The Bnat Lalla Mennana, an adaptation of the theatrical play The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca, will return for a second season. With its success in 2012, the series will again take viewers in the heart of Chefchaouen and its famous little blue houses.

Médi1 TV offers Adil Imam, the 73 year old Egyptian actor, who plays the lead role of Al Arraf series. He will be "accompanied by other Egyptian stars such as Hassan and Hussein Fahmi Houssni in the comic role of a crook and fugitive from justice in Egypt today."

Adil Imam

Adil Imam said the new series, written by Youssef Maati and directed by Rami Imam again, belongs to the Comedy genre, where he plays the role of a sharper, who goes to jail but escapes following January revolution, and motivated by the chaotic situation the country falls in, he decides to run for presidency. Like all his previous works, Al-Arraf is characterised by its sarcastic nature especially when highlighting corruption in the political system.

The Médil channel will also air a new season of Lyam Deret. The Moroccan series is described as  "a more intense dramatic intrigue and mysterious."

The political strife in Cairo has cause major problems for the production of Egyptian soaps. Dalal Hamza, a producer at the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, says the number of Ramadan TV series has fallen from 55 last year to 23 this season.

The total cost of production cost this year was 900 million Egyptian pounds ($128 million) while last year it reached close to $1.5 billion pounds ($213.6 million).

Production conditions "are surrounded by lots of problems, especially the general financial crisis and decline in advertising, as well as the security situation that hinders filming, which has prompted the industry to rely heavily on studio filming", she said.

Hamza said the costliest series this year is Al-Arraf, with production costs soaring to 50 million pounds ($7.1 million).

Morocco will delay price rises until after Ramadan 

The shelving of  planned deregulation of prices for some subsidized products until after Ramadan follows controversy over its announcement of the move before the Muslim fasting month when millions of Moroccans spend heavily.

The Moroccan government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, is seeking to cut back on subsidies that burned up 53.36 billion dirhams of public money in 2012 or 6.4 pct of Morocco's GDP.

But the reforms also mean pain for households used to subsidized oil, gas, sugar and other staple goods.

"We will launch the automatic price adjustment after Ramadan," Finance Minister Nizar Baraka told Reuters. "We will announce the exact day after the sacred month taking into consideration the commodity prices in the international markets."

General Affairs and Governance Minister Mohamed Najib Boulif said last week that the government would start automatic price adjustment within weeks for fuel - except cooking gas - and sugar.

The government expects the shift to cut spending on subsidies by 20 percent, to 42 billion dirhams ($5 billion) or less. That is within the limit fixed by the 2013 budget, which is based on an oil price of $105.

Boulif noted that if oil prices were lower than $105 then Moroccans would wind up paying less than if the subsidy scheme had been left in place.

"The adjustment will be in both directions. When (oil) prices are less than $105, that will let Moroccans consider that it is not necessarily a bad thing," he argued last week.

The government, however, may also set a different pricing regime of diesel fuel to protect the transportation sector and avoid a snowball effect on prices.

"We are considering how to set a different pricing regime for diesel used in the transport of people and goods, but it is in discussions and not yet decided," Transport Minister Abdelaziz Rebbah told Reuters earlier this week.

That may sharply reduce the savings for the government as the transport sector burns up around 65 percent of the national consumption of oil, according to ministry figures.

A junior party is threathening to quit the governing coalition unless Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane moderated plans for the sweeping cuts. Benkirane, backed by the IMF to the tune of $6.2 billion under a precautionary credit line agreed last year, insists the reforms will go ahead.

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Ramadan In Morocco 2013

Ramadan 1434 will begin on Wednesday in Morocco. In a statement the government said that the crescent moon announcing Ramadan, could not be observed on Monday and therefore July 10th will be the first day of fasting.

 Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and observing the fast is one of the five pillars of Islam, with the profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage.

Fasting, which lasts 29 to 30 days, begins at dawn and ends at sunset. Fasting also means abstaining from drinking, smoking or have sex during daylight hours.

 This year - year of the Hegira 1434 - Ramadan is expected to end on the 8th or 9th of August in Morocco, the day when Muslims celebrate Eid Al Fitr.

 Arab Gulf states and Egypt have agreed with Morocco and announced that the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will start Wednesday.

 “Nobody has reported having seen the moon of the new lunar month this evening, so it was decided to consider Tuesday, tomorrow, as the complementary day of the current month of Shaaban and that Wednesday will be the first day of Ramadan,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

 A billion and a half Muslims globally are anticipating the beginning of the month-long fast, according to Reuters.

Ramadan kareem - Ramadan Mubarak
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