Saturday, February 13, 2010

Je suis une petite sourde -- parlez lentemente, s`il vous plait

posted Wed, 03 Aug 2005

Here’s the problem with speaking just one or two words of French.

People answer you in French.

This is a taxi in the Fez medina. Fez has one of the only functioning medieval cities in the world. The streets are too narrow for cars, so everything is brought in by mule or donkey. These taxis have an advantage over the regular taxis that we have been taking – no windows. Most taxis have the window cranks removed in the back, so the passengers cannot open the windows. Mind you, if I were the driver, I would do the same thing, but when I asked one driver why this was done, he said it was to prevent sciatica.

Just because you can say something in French doesn’t mean you can understand in French.

Last night on the train, Steve and I were in a compartment (first class! yay!) with two Moroccan women and a Moroccan man. The women were wearing the traditional djellaba, which is a very comfortable-looking caftan (I bought one for home) and headscarf (which does not cover the face – the face covering, they sniffed, was not Muslim – “That’s Bin Ladin”), the man was in jeans and a t-shirt.

They spoke French and Arabic and probably Berber, which seems to be the case with almost every Moroccan I’ve met so far. Younger Moroccans seem to speak some English and maybe not Berber. My sample size is limited, though.

So we start talking. One of the first questions they will ask me is, “Where did you learn to speak French?” But they don’t ask Steve. Perhaps because he learned French in Chad, so he speaks it with an African accent. He said that in Paris once, he was in a bakery asking for something and the clerk kept looking past him at the other people. She was looking for the African – she didn’t think it was he who was talking.

So I made the mistake of speaking a few words of my atrocious, Spanish-accented French. (My brain knows there is English and then all other languages. Because I started learning Spanish when I was five years old, it’s English and then all other languages with a Spanish accent, unfortunately.) As soon as I did, they answered. Fast. I couldn’t keep up. But I tried. They were a lot more fun than my book.

I did get that the older lady took a trip to England just for the beer.

“Let me understand this,” I said. “You’re Muslim, but you went to England to drink beer?”

“You’re in Morocco and you’re going to eat couscous, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well,” she shrugged. “When in London…”

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