Friday, October 10, 2003

A Wonderland Called Tunisia :)

It's been already one year since I left Jordan and came to Tunisia to live in it for good. I must admit that it's a very beautiful country indeed. Once you set foot in the national airport of the capital Tunis you find posters and ads about Tunisia, most of them are in French and German. An expression I noticed in those ads and posters repeatedly was the one saying that Tunisia is the "Country of Light", unfortunately I arrived at night so I couldn't understand what that meant! But next day in the morning I got it! The light is so strong and shining, you can barely keep your eyes open during the day, even if you were pointing your eyes to the ground, you do need sunglasses or at least a cap! And with such a strong light you can see the beauty of colors clearer and you could enjoy its reflection on the sea waves in a magnificent way. And no matter if it was summer or winter, the light is always so strong, with one difference that the clouds in winter might not cause your eyes to drop water if you were lifting your head up high!
Other than the beautiful landscape, the sea, mountains, green fields, and the desert, there is something that is a Tunisian specialty, something that shocked me when I knew it and couldn't understand right away, it's their Arabic!
We all know that there are always 2 ways to communicate with people in any country using their own language, you either speak the formal or informal language, so you either speak the Official or the Slang English, you either speak the Hochdeutsch or the German Dialekt, you either speak the Fos'ha (formal Arabic) or simply the used dialect! Now before going to Tunisia I knew that they have a dialect that is so much DIFFERENT than all the spoken dialects in the whole Middle East countries. I got somehow prepared for that and I was counting on the Fos'ha if I reach a dead end with any Tunisian citizen I'd be communicating with. My first surprise was when I went to the mini market near home to ask for some stuff, I didn't know all the words in their dialect, so I had to use the dialect of the Middle East Areas, and oops, I noticed that a lot of the words in the Middle East normally and really BAD and impolite ones when used in Tunisia so I had no other choice but to get back to the Fos'ha, and still the woman didn't understand and she started asking me for details, she was speaking 2 words in the Tunisian dialect and 20 other in French, lol, I only know some basics in French, I didn't understand what she was talking about, and we ended up talking in signs, I point to something and she gets it to me. As for the things I couldn't find by myself, I had to forget about them till I either learn them in their dialect or in French…which aren't that much different by the way. For instance, I got cold and went to the doctor one day, a Tunisian doctor, I explained to him that I'm not Tunisian and started explaining what was wrong with me, I used Fos'ha, no use, I tried my own dialect, it got even worse, I used English, no one listening, I tried to explain using some words of their dialect, and all I got was a mixed face looking at me as if I was kind of a retarded or something. Sign language was my only savior. And after pointing at my throat, nose and head, he was like: AAAAAAAh, you're suffering from what we in TUNISIAN call BRONCHITE!!
I thought bronchite sounded a little bit FRENCH!! And it turns out to be a French word but is one of the French words that are now used in the Tunisian dialect, so it's Tunisian as well!!
After a while when I understood 85% of their dialect and while I was having a discovery walk in the neighborhood I saw some words written on billboards, on the busses, metro stations and almost everywhere, I knew that was Arabic, but it was neither Fos'ha nor dialect, and only then I realized that Tunisians have their own Arabic Fos'ha that they use in advertising, radio, tv, and in official ceremonies!!! That was the FIRST time EVER I hear those words, loool, I mean in the Middle East and the Gulf Areas as well as Egypt they all use the same Fos'ha, but in Tunisia they use something totally different. The thing is, Arabic language is a very rich one, you could find more than 3 words for one meaning, and Tunisians chose the "least used, or the never used" words and built their own Fos'ha that is so similar to the Fos'ha of some other countries like Libya, Morocco and Algeria. But talking of the dialects, the Tunisian and Libyan dialects are easier and slower than those of Morocco and Algeria, who depend on a mixture of 97% French and 2% Arabic mixed with barbarian, I assume :P
Anyway, after a whole year, I can say that I understand the Tunisian dialect and their own Fos'ha 99.5% and can speak them both fluently ;)
Another lovely thing I experienced here is the antique shops, the ones selling in those shops are unbelievable. I was visiting those shops and I couldn't but be shocked of how each and every one working there is ready to speak at least 3 languages fluently!! So you find someone asking a German group: "Komm herein, bitte, wir haben neue Sachen da drinnen… (please come in we have new stuff inside)", and then two American tourists walk by his shop, so he tunes to English: "hi, welcome, come and take a look over here…" and then he suddenly speaks Italian and French…etc.
Not only in such shops, but even in tourists' areas and in restaurants, it's amazing and I like it :)
Tunisia is a beautiful country with all languages available to communicate with tourists, and someone with 3 languages is supposed to find a job so easily… that does not apply to me though!