Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So, what to say about Tunisia? It was interesting to say the least. Am I glad I did not go alone? Yes, definitely. Would I go back again? Yes, but accompanied by a co-worker again.

I realize that a lot of what I experienced was just cultural differences - the fact that the majority of men just pretended I wasn't there or refused to eat in my presence didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It was the ones who were overt about it, like the hotel dude who kept insisting on talking to my non-French-speaking co-worker instead of me. I also could not get used to the fact that the women stayed hidden - you rarely saw a female walking in the streets, and all of the cafés were men-only. I kept trying to ask people where all the women were or if they had a place of their own to congregate, but it was almost like they didn't even understand my question. And the ones that worked in the building were illiterate and didn't speak a word French besides Bonjour - they literally acted like servants and were bowing to us all the time.

Despite all of that though, I still found the Tunisians we dealt at work to be extremely friendly and welcoming. They went out of their way to show us around and feed us traditional food and drink. And once the men warmed up to me a bit, they were much friendlier than 99% of my French customers. By the end of the trip, we were all joking around and laughing with the best of them. They still had a bit of a hard time letting me do any kind of heavy lifting, but hey, I guess if it makes them feel good, I have no problem letting them doing the dirty work. I'm sure it couldn't have been easy for them to be taking me out to lunch every day considering they are not used to eating at the same table as a woman. Also, our heavy work schedule didn't always allow them to get in their mandatory five prayers a day, but yet they never complained or said a word to us about it - they just said they hoped Allah understood that they were working with foreigners and then prayed a bit longer at night. It only came out the last night that we started talking about religion, and it was all extremely interesting - I don't know much about the Islamic religion and they were more than willing to share with us. The main manager there was also telling me about the history of Tunisia and how it used to be the most important center in Africa, with the city of Carthage rivaling Rome. He even said the word "Africa" comes from the Arabic word for Tunisia (it sounded really similar to "Afrique"). I love hearing about that time period, so I was just eating it up.

Unfortunately because there were so many problems this time around, we didn't have time to do as much (ie. any) tourist stuff as I had hoped, but everybody we met at work said that next time we come, we should stay a few extra days and they will take us around to all the sites. And yes, there will be a next time - because of how slow things move there (it's even worse than France, didn't know that was possible!!), we will likely be going back in a few months, hopefully in January. So I am definitely planning on trying to stay for at least the weekend before or after - I'd love a day at the beach, a camel ride in the desert or a visit to Carthage (preferably all of the above).

And on that note, I'm off to unpack and then repack my suitcase for this week's trip to the Pays de la Loire!



Blogger Justin said...

It's great to hear you enjoyed it! and welcome back!

November 16, 2008 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Lesley said...

Carthage is definitely worth visiting and so is Sidi Bou Saïd.

November 16, 2008 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Alisa said...

wow, those photos are awesome.

t'es chanceuse, toi :)

November 17, 2008 at 3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like you did great and had some fun too.

November 17, 2008 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger Fned said...

Wow! What an incredible experience!! I'm always interested in learning about new cultures and when possible, experiencing them first hand. I remember people kept looking at me on the street when hubby and I went to Istanbul because I didn't wear a hair scarf... I didn't think much about it but it kept hubby pretty nervous all throughout the trip.

I like you're take on things: you make the observation of how injust or silly some of it can be but in the end you understand it's their culture and one that must be respected even if you don't necessarily agree with it.

I'm glad there are progressive thinkers like your clients there because that means that hopefully they'll grow to be enough to maybe change things.

P.S. Oh, and great pics!!!

November 17, 2008 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger jonnifer said...

Sam, your pics are STUNNING.

I read a book about Morocco and got the impression that women there never get to just "hang out." They congregate and socialize while doing chores together. I imagine this goes for Tunisia as well.

November 17, 2008 at 4:50 PM  

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