Category Archives: Culture

Play it again, Sam

Casablanca - The MovieAfter a very hot summer day we wanted to cool down a bit in the evening. We went to “Rick’s Café” which was an important location in the movie “Casablanca”. The place was designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic Casablanca. Set in an old courtyard-style mansion built against the walls of the Old Medina of Casablanca, the restaurant – piano bar is filled with architectural and decorative details reminiscent of the film. There is an authentic 1930’s Pleyel piano and “As Time Goes By” is a common request to the in-house pianist.

Generally, photos are prohibited, but if you ask the staff, they allow to make “but only a few, please!”. With our big group a considerable restriction, so we had to keep certain guys busy by ordering drinks and take the pictures when they’re away. :-)

Rick's Café Ingrid Bergman in the background

#ibmcsc morocco

Half Time Thoughts

We’ve just completed the first two weeks of our CSC assignment – time to reflect about the first half time!

JM Suites is a very good hotel with friendly and helpful staff. I’m good with my room, except that is just above the restaurant and bar: Thursday till Saturday the walls are shaking to the beat of the lout music below me. And some of us got even better rooms with separate bath tub and big terrace. Fortunately the lucky guys shared… well, the terrace, not the bath tub. Oh yeah, we actually came in a bad time, a lot of construction work is going on, the French restaurant is now a Pizzeria and currently we don’t know if the spa will be usable before our leave. But that’s complaining on a very high level.

We stay in a quite modern city with contrasts. A new electric tramway connects distant points of the city metro-like, but does not reduce the hectic car traffic on the streets significantly. You can spend your time (and money) in the alleys of the old medina or go to a super-modern mall.  You’ll get traditional moroccan food, enjoy a Hamam session, listen to the prayers from the minarets, glimpse women in burqas  – or have a burger at McDonald’s, observe Moroccans ordering a six-pack of (alcoholic) beers in a local (non-touristic) restaurant, see young (Moroccan) ladies in mini-skirt and go for clubbing at weekends… . Casablanca is not black-white, it is a vivid city with many contrasts, but also with charm.

More often used than the laptop: the flipchart!We 15 IBMers from all over the world have been assigned to 4 different organizations, each with different challenges. Nevertheless, many teams face similar challenges, too. The data gathering phases took a lot of time, many, many interviews have been conducted so far. And of course the language: each team has a team member or a translator who speaks French – nevertheless, a lot of time and information get lost in translation. My French skills are useful to me and it’s somehow cool to use it, but translating from one foreign language to another foreign language… that would be too much. Luckily we have Patrick from France in our ALCS team! Many of us are eagerly waiting to produce some tangible work products, which will happen during the next two weeks…
insha’ allah (if God wills)!

Personal impressions
One objective for me was to get out of my comfort zone, which definitely occurred, being in a foreign country, culture, new colleagues and project targets. But so far I can manage it well, thanks to the great team spirit, the motivation to work for a great AIDS prevention organization, the amazing weekend trips, a lot of fun and the support from home. So far I’ve never been in bed before midnight, but somehow it works.

Funny stuff (at least for me)

  • Swiss Army Knife vs. Moroccan staplesThe laundry form – you have to indicate what’s inside your laundry bag using predefined check boxes… but you can only choose between around 4 options. For the rest like socks, underwear, T-shirts, … well, you put them into the bag, hope they are returned and that they don’t cost the world. After the first laundry I decided to wash socks and underwear myself: removing all staples was one of the reasons not being in bed before midnight, despite the help of my Swiss Army Knife.
  • I once made a short shopping list: Detergents, coloring pens, beer, water. I returned with detergents and beer… .
    Shopping list
  • Cell phones of 4 generationsI have four cell phones with me! One for my Swiss business number (#1), one for my Swiss personal number (#2), one old Arabic Nokia (#3) for local calls… which I never used, I put the SIM card into another old smartphone (#4) for convenience and usability reasons.


  • Traffic – I experienced Indian and Indonesian traffic, so I know hectic traffic situations. In Morocco it is relatively well organized, but not always understandable to me. Especially strange to me: why do almost everyone drive exactly ON the central line of two lanes instead of deciding for one of them?

#ibmcsc morocco

Belly Dancing in Marrakesh

For the evening we made a reservation at restaurant “Le Tanjia” which advertized Happy Hour and belly dancing. But first we went to the main square (Jemaa el-Fnaa) again and, even though we split in several groups, none of us could resist to taste the food from the stalls… I had a wonderful Moroccan soup, other were braver and had soup with… snails!

Sunset at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Belly DancingThe restaurant thing started quite well and we got our belly dancing sessions soon. We were actively involved, too… I fear that several compromising videos exist on colleagues’ smartphones. ;-)

Also some of the long awaited beers were served, but then the situation became strange. Only warm beer for happy hour, and the fact that we did not intend to eat made the situation worse. We have to admit however that normally one reserves a table for eating, not just for drinking. Let’s blame the delicious food we had at Jemaa el-Fnaa! Anyway, we felt uncomfortable and thought it was time to get the bill, to leave and to find another good place to spend the evening / night.

With the “Kechmara” bar we indeed found a good pace to sit, unfortunately they would close at midnight. Dany resp his TripAdvisor app pointed us to a Karaoke bar, but on the way we encountered the “Level Five“, a disco / bar on top of a high building. Again, the IBM CSC troop opened the party on the dance floor. Party time till late!

Party at Level 5

#ibmcsc morocco

Jogging Experiences in Casablanca

Parc de la Ligue Arabe from aboveYes, this evening I finally managed to take my sportswear (representing my sports association TV Obersiggenthal!) and went for jogging! :-) I was a little bit skeptic about it, I didn’t know how a western guy in running outfit in the middle of this busy Moroccan city would be perceived. Also, I didn’t want to get lost, so I decided to head for the big park near the hotel (Parc de la Ligue Arabe) and do some laps there.

Parc de la Ligue Arabe

TV Obersiggenthal in CasablancaIt turned out to be a nice experience. The park itself is well maintained, even though some playground installations from the sixties are locked away (at least it looked like). I saw couples walking hand-in-hand or sitting on a bench, young boys playing football, families with their dogs and old men playing Pétanque. I was the only jogger, but I still didn’t feel like an alien from outer space. A young guy with Rasta hair smiled at me and gave a thumbs-up. Such gestures and a sound mix of Linkin Park, Sunrise Avenue, Toten Hosen and QL in my ears gave an additional boost for my exercise. :-)

#ibmcsc morocco

One Thousand and One Nights in Fès

“Smile – you’re in Fès!” – That should be the motto for the day. The hotel recommended a guide for exploring Fès. We started with the outer parts of the city – the king’s palace (Dar El Makhzen), then a viewpoint which offered a great view over Fès and finally a guided tour in a pottery in which we witnessed all phases of pottery creation.

Dar El Makhzen

Dar El Makhzen

Sue, Patrick and Apple...

Sue, Patrick and Apple…

Medina of Fès

Medina of Fès

Pottery maker

Pottery maker

Then we entered the Medina of Fès – I really felt like being in a One Thousand and One Nights story… or in Disney’s “Aladdin” movie. Donkeys instead of cars, labyrinths of narrow alleys, diverse “souks” (markets), oriental smells and thousands of locals and visitors. One of Fès’ main attraction inside the Medina – the tanneries – are best viewed from above. A foreigner could hardly find a way up, a hint how helpful a local guide can be (forget Google Maps here!).

Entrance to the Medina  Beware of the donkeys

Bou Inania madersa - an Islamic school  Leather tanneries
Speaking about Arabic stories, Lauren and me had to act as models for a demonstration on how “Keffiyehs” (scarfs) are tied to classic Arabic headdresses. It suited us well… at least that’s what they said.

"Lauren of Arabia" and me wearing a Keffiyeh

(Click to enlarge)

After a quick visit of the Blue Gate (Bab Bou Jeloud), it was already time to leave Fès – but not without a stop at the Roman ruins of Volubilis.

Blue Gate  Volubilis - and a stork

Volubilis  "To infinity... and beyond!"
We arrived quite late in our hotel back in Casa and had dinner just there. Ana paula provided a KT (knowledge transfer) session to Grant, who successfully posted locations and pictures on Facebook thereupon – and collected many likes within seconds!

#ibmcsc morocco

Tourists today, Consultants tomorrow

Another city exploration tour for today. It was a bit surprising to us that the guide – Ahmed – was a rather old man and that he (and we) would not be able to walk the streets from 9 to 5, as we initially somehow have planned. Never mind, just go with the flow… we slightly reduced the program and were ready to go.

Ahmed, our city guide

Ahmed explained us the cathedral nearby, the “Place des Nations Unies”, “Place Mohammed V” the Art Déco district and leaded us to a nearby market. We were bewildered to see swordfish heads, whale ribs and alive(!) turtles for sale.

Casablanca Cathedral - now used as a museum  Art Deco district

"Free" flowers for the ladies!  Food at a market in CasablancaLater we visited the Hassan II Mosque for a longer visit and more pictures. We were just leaving when an escort of black limousines entered the place and cleared the way for the visit of a VIP – whoever it was… maybe the king?

Hassan II Mosque - talles minarett of the world (210 m)

Next highlight was the walk through the narrow ways of the Medina, the old town of Casablanca. It was actually market stalls after market stalls, but in a rather original way – not the touristy thing with Henna tattoos, pottery and postcards, but with people selling fruits, vegetable, fish, electronics and other goods for daily usage. And like at the previous market, many unexpected items: alive little yellow chicks, alive snails… and alive chicken – which a shop owner proudly beheaded for us. But you see, it’s a place where locals do their shopping, not tourists or CSCers. Not sure if we had found the way out without Ahmed’s guidance.

Medina market... rather for locals, not tourists

We spent the afternoon with a quick lunch, siesta and some of us with Moroccan Hamam. I spent the evening with a small group in a fish restaurant with football in TV, Indie music by a DJ, tapped beer, fish Tajine and white whine.

So far, the time in Morocco was rather “touristy” than business like. But are we on vacation? Is there a reason that the CSC participants don’t have client facing meetings the first day on arrival? I think there are very good reasons for it: we will work with team members which we never collaborated with before. Being on long walks through a foreign city, encountering unexpected things, discuss about where to have dinner, have some drinks together… is there a better team building exercise than this? Great guys with great experience are close to worthless if they are not able to collaborate, just my 50 cents… . So yes, there is a reason to have some leisure activities before our client meetings – for their benefit! But tomorrow the real things start.

#ibmcsc morocco

Welcome to Morocco!

As there is hardly any direct flight from Zurich to Casablanca my itinerary was Zurich – Madrid – Casablanca with Iberia Airlines – which also means we had to get up at 4:30 A.M. (“we” because Steffi was kind enough to drive to the airport). Flight to Madrid was on time and I could take a Whopper in the nice airport of Madrid.

Madrid Airport

Arriving in Casablanca at 3 P.M. I thought everything was perfect – but I somehow was not prepared for the looong queues in front of the immigration officers. It took me almost 1.5 hours to get through. I was really sorry for the driver who had to wait the entire time holding up my name’s sign outside.

It made me tired, but I was curious enough to get to know my team members. We met in the evening, at least the guys who already arrived, and went for a nice dinner. I had a delicious lamb “Tajine” (berber dish cooked in eathernware pots), good red wine and local beer. I didn’t know Casablanca has it’s own beer culture – a nice surprise! :-)

Lamb Tajine  Casablanca Beer

#ibmcsc morocco

Last Duties before Leaving

The day before the departure has come, finally. Steffi made Mexican fajitas for us, which allowed me to spend more time on packing… physically and virtually (Do I have enough E-Books for a month? The nerd within me claimed this question to be more important than having enough socks in the suitcase… ).

Before I will going to spend time and blog entries about Morocco, a last detail about Switzerland: the Swiss population – i.e. the part which is entitled to vote – is asked to put their votes for several national debates around 4 times per year. Just today the documents arrived and I could fill them just on time.

Swiss voting documents

But somehow it was strange to decide about new fighting jets for the Swiss army and about an increased minimum income (which is much higher than the average people get in other countries) just before leaving to a rather peaceful and altruistic undertaking… .

#ibmcsc morocco

Country Navigator – or why I could be Swede

Country Navigator Top 10We have a well-structured 3-months learning plan as preparation to our on-site assignment. The good thing is, many exercises are also fun. Part of the cultural awareness sessions was to complete our personal profile in Country Navigator. Try it out for yourself, it’s free and interesting!

By indicating how to act, think and communicate in several situations the system creates a visual profile which can then be compared with your friend’s profiles… or with a specific country. As it turned out, Switzerland was not within the top 10 matching countries to my profile – closest match was Sweden! :-)

What to do with it? In my point of view such results can never be 100% accurate – but that’s also not the aim. It helps however to reflect about your way of collaboration and where you might be careful in another cultural environment.

Country Navigator - my profile vs. Morocco

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