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October 9, 2008 My multilingual life...

I spent a few days up north, where the Berber dialect is Tarifit and everyone speaks Darija, then met with my counterpart, who speaks to me in French, and now my language centers are all scrambled.

I know “Survival Darija”, which means that I know about two useful verbs and a couple of conjunctions. Fortunately, the tourist vocab (taxi, bus, hotel, etc) is all in French or Darija anyway, so I use them enough to have them easily available. It’s the polite phrases that are tripping me up. “SmaHili” instead of “SamHi” for “Excuse me.” “Shukran” instead of “SaHa” for “Thank you.” “Dyali” instead of “winu” for “That’s mine” (useful when dealing with baggage).

Immediately after my French conversation with my counterpart, which came on the heels of several days trying to fake it in Darija, I went in to the Maroc Telecom office in SouqTown to see about getting Internet in my house in Berberville. I started the conversation in French, since that was the language I was thinking in at the time.

…and for the first time since coming to Morocco, somebody called me on it.

I’m so used to having strangers expect me to speak French – and only French – that it was jarring to hear, five minutes into the conversation, “All the other foreigners who live here speak Berber. Why don’t you?” I blinked, then answered, in Tam, “I do know Berber. A little bit.” “Well then why aren’t you speaking it?” he answered indignantly. Flummoxed, I couldn’t come up with a response. Because I expected you to expect me to speak French doesn’t flow off the tongue in Tam. I just blinked at him again, then listened to his explanation, in Tamazight, for why he couldn’t sign me up for Internet.

I insisted that my friends had done it at his office…he insisted that such a thing was impossible, and I’d need to go up to Springfield [my name for the capital of our province]…I argued that if everyone in Berberville had been signed up in his office, it must be possible…he staunchly repeated that I had no choice but to go to Springfield… It finally devolved into the Berber version of the “Yeah-huh,” “Nuh-uh” fights I used to have with my sister (“La!” “Eyyah!” “Oho!” “Eyyah!”), so I abruptly said, “OK, thank you.” Well, I meant to, anyway. But thanks to the aforementioned scrambling of my languages, I’m pretty sure that I said, “Goodbye.” Which was ruder than I’d intended to be, so I added a thank you, then smiled tightly, then walked out.

Looks like Internet-in-the-home will have to wait for my next trip to town… But I remain hopeful. :)

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