If you are like me, you will need a good translator when buying a car in Morocco. Maybe three.
Morocco is a bilingual country. Arabic is spoken by almost everyone and French comes in a close second. Many people will switch back and forth between Arabic and French several times in one conversation. Very few people speak English, which is all I speak.
My wife Amy had spent weeks searching for a used car by internet and word of mouth. We had decided to take a break from looking for cars and spend some time in one of the local markets to shop for stuff for our new house. While wandering around some back alleys of Casablanca, I saw a classic Renault R4 that had been fixed up and painted bright red.
‘That’s the kind of car I need to get,’ I told our friend Najate. She looked kind of surprised but told me that it would be a cheap car and that there were lots of them for sale. Najate is one of our Moroccan friends who lived in the United States for several years, so she speaks English and Arabic.
A few days later Najate called to tell me she saw an advertisement for an R4. She called the owner and set up a meeting.
I took the car for a drive, had a friend look it over and decided to go for the purchase. I told the owner I would pay his asking price, assuming there were no major problems with the car.
I was told Moroccans are not big on maintenance, so I asked one of the mechanics where I work to take a look at the car. I scheduled a time for the owner, the mechanic, and myself to meet. The owner and I showed up but the mechanic was nowhere to be found. The owner only spoke Arabic, so I got out my cell phone and called the mechanic.
Here is where having a good translator is necessary.
I was hoping the mechanic would explain that he would be there soon, or that maybe we would have to just set up another time to get the car looked at. So I handed my phone to the car’s owner. The owner of the car started yelling into my phone. He hung it up, got back in his car and drove away. I called the mechanic back to see what had happened and he said he told the owner the price was too much and I didn’t want the car. You can imagine my disbelief when I found out what just happened.
Determined that this car really was the best deal, the next morning I enlisted the services of a third translator. Yassine, one of the guys I work with agreed to call and apologize for me about the previous day’s events. The owner agreed we could meet again and take the car to a mechanic in Casablanca. He would pick me up.
I found out that the mechanic spoke French so I took one of my friends with me who spoke French, but not Arabic.
When we arrived the head mechanic was not at the shop but one of his guys looked over the car. His French was not so great so my friend couldn’t figure out everything the mechanic was talking about. So we broke out my phone again.
The conversation then went from me to my friend in English, from my friend over the phone to the head mechanic in French, and from the head mechanic to his mechanic at the shop in Arabic, and then back to me through that same chain.
What all was said, I am still not sure, but it seemed that the mechanic had not found any major issues with the car. At that point I was just happy to go outside to tell the owner I would take the car. We met the next day to sign the papers and make the transaction official.