Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So one of my first assignments as a full-timer is supposedly to go install a machine in Tunisia. This is a huge deal because it'll be our first machine in Africa, it now means that we have clients on every continent except Antarctica and it's my first big-time assignment. However I have two concerns with this - 1) is it safe for a blond American woman to go to rural Tunisia on her own? and 2) considering that I work essentially with men, are they going to take me seriously?

I've already had a difficult enough time dealing with some Frenchmen in rural areas - in general, they don't like taking orders from a woman, especially when it comes to dealing with machinery. So I'm thinking it might be even worse in Tunisia - but I don't know anything about the country, so I could be completely wrong. En gros, I'm hoping someone out there will be able to give me some advice. My main concern is obviously my safety - I've gotten used to dealing with macho men and am usually able to make my clients understand that if they want help, they've got to go through me. But my co-worker (the one who's job I basically stole) is getting me all paranoid, saying it's not safe and that I shouldn't go. He sent an email to my superiors with quotes from all these sites about single American women being harassed, robbed or kidnapped.

So I'm torn - this is my big chance to prove myself, but it's also a big unknown - I don't know anything about Tunisia or their working conditions. I don't know what kind of materials they will have on hand or who (if anyone) on site will be willing to help me. This whole thing could go amazingly well or be completely awful. So if anyone out there has any advice to give, please either reply here or send me an email - I need to try to figure out what I'm getting myself into!

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Blogger parisiannewyorker said...

I went to Tunisia once, for about 2 weeks, and I went with a bunch of friends (we were 3 girls and 2 guys); we rented a car and drove around the country.

I'd definitely say to dress conservatively (no shorts or short skirts) and don't go out to bars or whatever on your own. It was a little odd when we walked on the streets (all of us together) and the men would look us up and down, but no one made a move.

The only thing I can say about certain rural areas (at one point the car broke down in a really small village) is that once the kids see that you're not Tunisian they will be all over you for money and/or candy and stuff.

That said, I don't think it would be dangerous for you, but you might get some weird looks.

August 6, 2008 at 2:12 AM  
Blogger victoria said...

I've read that you should wear a wedding ring when traveling to foreign countries, alone or if you're with a male friend or more. I don't know... something about not advertising that you're available. Bring a guy pal?

Or just bring me with you. I can deal with men from wherever!

Oh ps, it's Mal...under yet another one of my secret identities.

August 6, 2008 at 2:50 AM  
Blogger shannon said...

When I was in Tunisia this past year with two other American girls, we did feel unsafe when we were outside the tour group we went with. Especially at night. For the most part, we were in rural Tunisia in the Sahara. Leaving the hotel at night was a bad idea. We were really creeped out, and we were literally followed back. And one other time, there were guys that we had seen during the day waiting for us back at the hotel, because it was the main one in town so they figured we would be there. And then, when we were on the island of Djerba in a small town, the sun started to set, and the store owner pointed out the door, told us where the taxi stand was, and said that we better get back to our hotel right away because it was unsafe.

During the day, it wasn't too bad. You get called "gazelle" more times than you can count, and the guys do try to push you into their stores so you'll buy something, and they may follow you a bit, but it's not too bad. And you get stared at A LOT.

Not too freak you out or anything, I just wanted to share my experience. Having a guy around does help. But if you are alone, make sure the hotel is in a nice area of town and do not go out after dark alone. You should be fine other than that.

And on a side note, Tunisia has some of the best food ever. Seriously. Sauces and spices and couscous! Not to mention the fresh oranges. Best oranges I've ever tasted! And the bread is even better than in France. Even the Frenchies agreed with us on that.

August 6, 2008 at 3:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you considered hiring a reputable tour guide while you are there to escort you around? Not sure if the cost is an issue, but maybe your company would foot the bill?

August 6, 2008 at 3:30 AM  
Blogger Syd said...

It's not unsafe, for women or anyone. It's pretty low key and they are quite focussed on international tourism which means foreigners are a familiar breed.

A little conservative in dress and don't be stupid and you are as safe as most places.

August 6, 2008 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Emily Marie said...

I spent a week in Tunisia last year and had no more problems than I've had in Paris. Yes, men will try to tell you how beautiful your eyes are and that you are "charmante" but you won't be aggressed. I say go for it! Who does this co-worker think he is trying to keep you from going!?

August 6, 2008 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Of course it's safe.

As others have said, men will stare and comment on how beautiful you are but no one will touch you.

August 6, 2008 at 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'd wear knee length skirts with jackets or/AND long-sleeved blouses. i'd put my hair in a pony tail and wear a no jiggle/zero nip foundation garment. no perfume, no lipstick.
you could also like check out lonely planet or something; i'm sure there are guides for businesswomen travellers on the net somewhere.

August 6, 2008 at 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women Business Travellers

The constitution provides for equal treatment of women in Tunisia, and there are many women now in high positions in politics and commerce. Attitudes towards gender in the major cities are more cosmopolitan, although female visitors should dress modestly if they do not wish to receive unwelcome attention. Such attention rarely poses any danger, but can become annoying.;jsessionid=Hzd1j0jnTQJJ2Y6Tnp2rzyQtSysGLffv0JyRGZ13pNPbRkXJnRqQ!750510!NONE?_nfpb=true&portlet_3_5_actionOverride=%2Fpub%2Fportlets%2FgenericViewer%2FshowContentItem&_windowLabel=portlet_3_5&portlet_3_5navigationPageId=%2Ftunisia&portlet_3_5navigationContentPath=%2FBEA+Repository%2F326%2F227053&_pageLabel=CountryType1

August 6, 2008 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger MISS YURI said...

bringing a dude along is a double-edged sword. pro: you feel safer, men harass you less. con: just like in france, at the hatcheries the men won't look at you if they have a question or whatever, they'll look at the man first. if from the get-go you're the only one there they won't have a choice.

August 6, 2008 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger jchevais said...

When I was in Tunisia, I was talked to because it was thought I was single and potentially a ticket to get out of the country (ie, love at first sight, of course i will bring you with me back to paris and we will shack up and life will be beautiful for ever and ever).

Here's a suggestion. Don't speak French to people you don't need to deal with. French is the second language there, while English is, reputedly, hardly spoken. If they can't talk to you, you are not worth courting. Bliss.

And of course, the wedding ring and long skirts are a good idea. Baggy trousers might be ok, but might not. I know that in certain muslim countries, trousers on woman are frowned upon because they still show the contour of a woman's leg which could ignite the fire of lust in any normal man.


August 8, 2008 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger poppy fields said...

I don't think you should worry about Tunisia. You got some good advice, dress conservatively, but other than that, everyone that I've know that has gone there has really liked that country.

August 11, 2008 at 12:09 PM  

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