Moroccan Bureaucracy: More “Inshallah” than Weber or Kafka

More than a century ago, German sociologist Max Weber launched his legal-rational theory of bureaucracy, establishing the characteristics he believed made a bureaucracy good. Weber liked bureaucracy. Weber REALLY liked bureaucracy. Weber liked bureaucracy so much that he considered it of vital importance to the success of the modern state. For context, though, consider that Weber, who died in 1920, never had to renew his driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He also never moved to Morocco. Anyone who has done either of those things more likely associates the reality of modern government bureaucracy – especially in Morocco – with Czech author Franz Kafka, who died in 1924 four years after Weber. Like Weber, Kafka also never experienced the DMV or moved to Morocco; but, his nightmarish tales elicit knowing nods from readers who have done one, the other, or – in our case – both. Still, even more than seeming Kafkaesque, Moroccan bureaucracy embodies the culture of “Inshallah” (“God willing”) that pervades everything here.

As heads of schools, as well as in other matters of personal and professional life, we have had our share of interactions with bureaucracies of all kinds. In our household, because Brian actually worked in government a lifetime ago (before he became a Government teacher) and because he tends to have more patience for dealing with it, Audrey tends to nominate Brian as the family representative to fill out forms of a pesky nature and go stand in lines to turn in said pesky forms. So Brian experienced an “Inshallah moment” dealing with Moroccan bureaucracy last week in the process of trying to get Charlotte’s residency paperwork approved.

As expats living and working in Morocco, we need residency paperwork to work here, to open a bank account and wire money stateside for bills, to pay daughter Margaret’s college tuition in Arizona, and to do pretty much any other official government or business thing back in the U.S. Fortunately for us, George Washington Academy’s HR office does an exceptional job helping new employees to navigate the startup hurdles by facilitating our obtaining residency paperwork, establishing bank accounts, etc. after we provide the HR folks with multiple passport-type photos (taken with the proper background, or no good); our passports, of which they make multiple copies; original birth certificates; our marriage certificate; criminal background checks from the FBI; medical attestations completed by a Moroccan doctor to certify that we have heartbeats and can breathe; and other required paperwork that HR organizes and submits on our behalf. Granted, it still took a couple months for each of us just to get our Récepissé (receipt) from the neighborhood police headquarters that said officially we had started the residency paperwork process. Until we had our récepissés in hand, we could not open a bank account (which HR again facilitated). Because we could not open a bank account, we could not wire money back to the U.S. and had no place to put our cash here in Morocco. Even after we received our récepissés and opened a bank account, we still had to wait several months longer until we could wire money. Meanwhile, we waited for our Cartes de Séjour (our actual residency cards) to arrive from Rabat, the Capitol of Morocco where our residency application paperwork had gone for processing. Coworkers at GWA who arrived after we did last summer started getting their CDS, but we did not. We asked HR why others who followed our arrival received their cartes before we did. Our first solid dose of the “Inshallah” nature of this process came with the only available well-reasoned explanation: “Because theirs came back from Rabat before yours did.

Since the récepissés expire after three months, we had to go to the Prefecture, the big police headquarters in Casablanca, to renew them before we flew back to the U.S. in December. January came still without the cartes. Brian asked HR when our approved cartes might get sent down from Rabat. He learned that they actually had arrived from Rabat, but now sat in a drawer in the Foreigners Office of the Casablanca Prefecture while HR waited for word that we could go pick them up. Finally, in early February, HR told Brian he could pick up his Carte de Séjour. He went to the Prefecture, waited his turn in the Foreigners Office, picked up his CDS, and asked if they also had Audrey’s CDS. Yes, they had it…and she would have to come herself to pick it up. A few weeks later she did. Having finally picked them up nearly eight months after we arrived in Morocco, our new one-year cartes will expire in September, requiring that we go through the whole process again. Yet, after getting our first one-year CDS, we can reapply for another one-year or a five-year or even a ten-year. Assuming we still have the option in September, we definitely will go for the ten-year. For now, with both of us finally holding our Cartes de Séjour, we felt official. We felt like we really belonged. We felt success!…

…Except that Charlotte turned 16 in November, and Morocco requires children age 16 and older to have their own residency paperwork. So four months ago we kicked off the whole process for Charlotte. For whatever reason, rather than having Brian as the parent of record, we initiated paperwork with Audrey as the parent of record. Charlotte’s paperwork got filed in early December, and our wait for her Récepissé began. (Flying at Christmas from Casablanca to Paris to Seattle and back again in reverse, she had only her passport and the small provisional receipt that precedes the official Récepissé but proved sufficient for her to get back after our trip.) We presumed her application moved forward, and that we would get her official Récepissé soon, especially since her small receipt would expire at the end of March.


When Brian learned in February that he could pick up his CDS at the Prefecture, he also learned that Charlotte’s application had come back rejected because the last name on her birth certificate (Menard) differed from the last name on Audrey’s birth certificate (Cauley). Imagine that. So we had to amend her file with paperwork that named Brian as the parent of record and certified his status as her father. This began with a trip to The Commune, a neighborhood-based collection of government agencies, including the equivalent of a Notary who could affix the proper seals and stamp the right stamps to certify Brian’s attestation as Charlotte’s father. In Morocco, nothing official happens without a stamp. In an age where the government can track an individual’s currency exchanges by passport number through a nationwide computer database (and does, in order to limit any individual’s currency exchanges to about $4000 a year), getting a notary stamp remains more 1917 than 2017. The Commune’s open air offices have not a single computer to be found.  Instead, it features lots of clerks sitting at aged and worn mid-20th Century desks while waiting to stamp papers – including a one-armed older man reigning as the lightning-fast stamper. A clerk finds the right square seal, licks it, and affixes it to your document. Then he stamps it by hand with a big THUD sound of him punching the stamper down on the paper and seal. Then you sign the register in a thick, leather-bound, oversized ledger. For all the paper-based operations there, the wonder is that you see no shelves lined with filled ledger books and other paper records. Who knows where those get stored. With paperwork duly stamped, though, Brian could take it to the Prefecture to drop it off and have it added to Charlotte’s file.

And this is where “Inshallah” bureaucracy really takes off.

When Brian went to pick up his CDS at the Prefecture, before going to the Foreigners Office he went to the main room to drop off his notarized papers. The room had about a half dozen counter spots with two of them actually staffed by clerks. A large crowd sat waiting their turns to approach and do business. All Brian needed to do was drop off the papers, but when he tried to do that with a clerk she gave him a nasty look and spoke sharply to him in French that he needed to get a number and wait his turn. Asking where he could get a number, she jerked her head right to indicate he should get them from the clerk seated at a table at the far end. Moving to the table, he asked the table clerk how he could get a number. The table clerk told him in French that the numbers had all been given out. Asking him when there would be more numbers, the table clerk told Brian that was all the numbers for that day. In essence, even though he had gone fairly early in the morning to the Prefecture, he would not be allowed to drop off the paperwork that day. Apparently it was not God’s plan for him to drop the paperwork that day.

A week later, he tried again, heading to the Prefecture first thing in the morning. Inshallah, surely he could get a number and execute the simple task of dropping the paperwork. However, despite the early arrival, again the amassed people had already claimed all the numbers for that day. Again, God’s plan did not include dropping the paperwork that day.

Calendars and schedules did not let him return for a third try until last week. With the expiration of Charlotte’s provisional receipt three weeks away, he headed again to the Prefecture. Arriving no earlier than before, this time he found on the end counter a cache of red paper squares with numbers hand-written on them. He grabbed Number 22, then saw the clerks dealing with numbers 1 and 2. GWA’s HR office had told him to get a number if possible, but also to check with the Foreigners Office on the off chance that they had processed Charlotte’s paperwork after all with only Audrey’s parenting information. With plenty of red paper numbers ahead of him, he headed back to the Foreigners Office. Asking if they had Charlotte’s Récepissé, of course they did not. However, in order to explore why they did not, the clerk took his paperwork… Finally, it was his Inshallah moment!

After a few minutes of the clerk conferring in a different room, she returned and asked him to take a seat around the corner outside the office of the chief and wait. So he did, and he waited. And waited. And waited. Could they actually be preparing her Récepissé right there?

No, they could not.

The Inshallah moment had passed. When she finally came back to him after he waited over an hour, she told him that his notarized paperwork had expired after all these weeks. “Why did you not come sooner to drop it off?” she wondered at him in French. Deep breath. Count to ten.

So we still do not have Charlotte’s Récepissé. The clerks at The Prefecture said they will work with our HR folks to get it resolved before Charlotte’s expiration date at the end of March…Inshallah. If not, does anyone want to add a great 16 year old kid to your household? She may be looking real soon for a place to go.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

Finding Culture in Morocco

One naturally would assume, upon reading a blog post title “Finding Culture in Morocco,” that we mean it in the sense of our quest to discover and explore…Moroccan culture. Indeed, as our collection of posts since last July shows, usually that is our focus which has met happily with success as we have settled into our lives here. Yet, in all our moves through Virginia to Ohio to Louisiana to Arizona, we both always felt a need to balance the enjoyment we found in adjusting to new circumstances with some measure of familiarity. Culture shock can impact more strongly, even critically so, when new surroundings seem so completely foreign that you lose your sense of you. Our school, George Washington Academy, does a superb job orienting new faculty and administrators to GWA, to Casablanca, to Morocco, and to this blend of passion and pitfalls when adjusting to new surroundings overseas. Our COO, Danielle, created an orientation program that is especially good at launching GWA newbies toward success in their new lives here. As a result, our move to Casablanca and to GWA has enriched our lives – including that of our teenage daughter, Charlotte – with the warm and welcoming people of Morocco, fantastic food, centuries of interesting history to explore hands-on, the spiritual beauty of the daily call to prayer, a tolerance of the open practice of other religions in a Muslim land, diverse climates and topography across the country, the freshest and juiciest produce we have ever enjoyed, and no shortage of animal encounters on a daily basis (from donkeys in the streets to dogs and cats that roam freely to sheep grazing in pastures to chickens that slip through our school gate and stroll around within the campus walls. (By the way, teacher friends, we are currently searching for teachers for the 2017-2018 school year. Check us out at, and apply at

Despite our individual and collective family happiness with our lives here, at times we still yearn for things that we have enjoyed in other places we have lived and traveled. For example, we love going to the symphony, the theater, museums, a foodie-friendly fine dining restaurant, and such. When we told people a year ago that our next step in life’s journey would take us to Morocco, we encountered a variety of responses. “Say hello to Princess Grace for me.” No, that is Monaco on the French Mediterranean, not Morocco on the northwest corner of Africa. “Aren’t you afraid to go to a Middle East country?” Um, Morocco is a continent away from the Persian Gulf. The native Arabic dialect, Darija, is a mix of Arabic, French, Spanish, and sub-Saharan African languages like Louisiana’s Creole is a mix of French, Native American, and African languages. When we told people that Morocco is a very western-friendly country, some cautioned that we could not really know that until we arrived to experience it. Well, we arrived and experienced it, and it is a western-friendly country. Folks here may have a hang up about France – perhaps having to do with that colonialism thing – but America has been A+ on people’s lists. King Mohammed VI has pushed English instruction and fostered good relations with the U.S. for business and other interactions. Families able to travel mark New York, DC, and Florida as key destination spots. Students looking to go to school overseas consider American university options highly. The U.S. Department of State rates Morocco as one of the safer places for Americans to travel and live, as opposed to concerns that have developed about locations in Europe traditionally considered safe spots. Even in the current international political climate, we find less concern about backlash against America in Morocco than we do about whether Moroccan students wanting to go to college in America will be allowed to do so.

All that said, while we did our regular shopping today in the souks to get fresh produce, ground beef that went through the grinder on the spot for us, and freshly made kibi to bring home for dinner tonight, we also enjoyed a rather “western” weekend. Yesterday we drove Charlotte to Chile’s (yes, Casablanca has a Chile’s, as well as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and more) to meet up with people for a birthday lunch for a couple of their friends, then we circled back later to shuttle three of them over to the Morocco Mall to hang out for a while. With Charlotte deeply ensconced in teenage social life, we headed back home to get ready for an evening outing of our own. Our friends Abdellah and Najet, who after adopting us last Fall then joined us with their kids for the Thanksgiving dinner covered in a earlier blog post, invited us to their home for dinner and then to a concert by L’Orchestre Philharmique du Maroq (the Morocco Philharmonic Orchestra) in a beautiful 80 year old concert hall in downtown Casablanca. With its ornate finishings, the French Protectorate era concert hall could have been a concert hall in Paris or London or New York. Eighty-five year old Abdellah, an opera lover, told us of his first time coming to this venue at age 18 when he heard Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Last night’s Philharmonic concert featured Mozart as well, along with Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Paganini, and Ysaye, and featured several guest violin soloists from Germany, France, and the U.S. Following last night’s classical music fix, to add to our Moroccan western binge we decided on a whim after our shopping today to lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Ristorante Italiano. (Yes, we could not resist an Italian restaurant named Italian Restaurant in Italian.) The food was spectacular, the atmosphere superb, and the service spot on. Audrey had a burrata anti-pasta and gamberi e zucchine risotto. Brian had a perfectly al dente fresh-made linguini alla bolognese, followed by a pollo scallopini in salsa dI senape with rice and mushrooms sautéed in thyme. The only thing that did not remind us of eating a “fine dining” meal in Rome or back in the States: the check that beat what such a meal would cost elsewhere by at least half! As we spoiled ourselves further with a terrific tiramisu, we considered the merits of bringing our next visitors back for a good Italian meal after giving them a solid introduction to Moroccan culture and life.

Both with last night’s concert and today’s lunch, we reveled in a bit of western culture high brow fun. We love living in Morocco, and part of loving living here is that we can straddle western and Moroccan cultures as we wish. We do not know how many years we will stay in Morocco, nor how much “western” we will retain over time, but for now we find ourselves quite comfortable as Americans living here with an appreciation for our new home and its provision to us of enough other comforts to feel not too far from our old home.

On your mark…get set…here we go!