25 January 2011

au marche en tunisie {post not actually in french}

It's fun to re-discover old writing—not that I'd forgotten about all the writing I did in Tunisia six years ago and was completely surprised to have stumbled across this in my very organized hard drive.

No, it's more that it's entertaining, insightful, and sometimes cringe-producing to look back on who you were before in writing. I'm getting slightly angsty here, so I won't go on, but I will say: it's fun to look back on who you were and what you were thinking when you were 22.


I like being called a gazelle.

I’m not leggy or elegant or graceful, although I pretend that I’m channeling Audrey Hepburn.

Maybe giving off a captivating air of grace, self-confidence, and sophistication will fool others—but mostly myself. I like it, then, when I’m complimented for those traits I don’t think I have, as if I’ve tricked someone into noticing me.

But every woman is a gazelle here in Tunisia; it’s the endearment to get us to buy more scarves at the market.

“Salut, les gazelles! Jolies, non?” He’s draped with scarves in cerulean, violet, and mandarin orange, so I know he’s saying that they are so pretty (and inexpensive, his eyes wink), but I want that jolie compliment for myself. I take the gazelle and run with it.

Of course, I like being mistaken for French.

My friends and I—three Americans and a Canadian who sometimes stubbornly points out that she’s American, too, because she’s from North America but then she relents in that Canadian way to American dominance—we’re with a French tour group.

Everywhere here in Tunisia, we’re assumed to be French until we open our mouths. Then, the missing subtleties of the French /u/ unmask us as foreigners, although no one is quite sure what kind of foreign.

So begins the game, often played at the markets as the sellers try to charm us into buying.

Belgian? Swiss? German? Czech? Italian? British? Russian?

No, no, no. Try further to the west of Europe.

Iraqi? Japanese?

One, the other west.

Two, let’s not even get into the political implications of Iraq and America, here in 2005, not too long, in the scheme of things, after we went into Iraq.

Three, Japanese?

These Tunisians don’t think of American and then think to yell at us for being American.

Once, after I told a waiter at our resort in Djerba that I’m American, he told me that Americans had to go sit in an isolated corner so that we could blabber loudly and with forceful authority without disturbing the guests.

He laughed when he saw my doe-eyed doubt that almost believed him; he was joking. Now when I come in the restaurant, he finds me to say hello to his American girl.

I like that this country seems so untouched by us and our long arm of culture, misbehavior, opinions, and politics.

And I like not being recognized.

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