An intriguing cultural phenomenon in Morocco is the cascade of invitations that arrive on my desk after the event to which I am being invited. I have for example not once received an invitation to a vernissage at the Ministry of Culture’s splendid Bab el-Rouah Gallery – and I have had many dozens of them – until after the event to which I am being invited. No doubt this has something to do with the vagaries of our own post-collection, but it suggests a very high tolerance for the last-minute, across the road at MiniCult. I am routinely bidden by every sort of organization to lectures, exhibitions, film projections, meetings, degree ceremonies and conferences a day or two before they take place, and not infrequently on the same day.
There are what are coyly called ‘cultural’ explanations for this, and one of them is a general acceptance that planning (of all kinds – but particularly event-planning) is a last-minute business. I have spent almost four years pushing out the planning horizon of my own office, stage by stage, into a not-quite-distant future. This seems often to go against the grain. Recently when fuming gently at a series of last-minute changes by a Moroccan partner to long-laid event plans, I was told with a smile, “But Martin, this is Morocco.” Indeed it is.
More subtle and corrosive is the constant implication that you will be able to drop everything and cancel commitments for a late invitation from someone important enough to demand your attention – and that by not doing so, you are showing a lack of respect. Of course to an Englishman the respect is shown by not cancelling a commitment already made, unless in an emergency, and in this contrast lies a useful bellwether to the very different cultures of respect, deference and – yes – hogra.
A friend supplied me with the answer this week – the darija proverb al-ma3roud f-nharu yabka f-daru. ‘The person invited on the same day stays home.’ I rather like that, and am sorely tempted, in my last few months in Morocco, to have a large rubber stamp made so that I can airily mark late invitations with a nicely calligraphed rectangular cachet containing those wise words. And post them back.