Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


8/20/10 The "Real Arabic"

I'm settling into a new neighborhood, and therefore still learning my way around, learning the local amenities, etc.

The other day, in my first walk-about, I saw a sign saying "INTERNATIONAL FOODS". At first I walked by, since I was making a beeline for a major chain grocery story I'd heard was just up the road, but I glanced in as I strode by.

It took a couple seconds to register what I'd seen: two women in head scarves.

I stopped, turned around, and retraced my steps. The two women - apparently a mother and daughter, based on resemblance and interactions - seemed relieved and thrilled to have a customer.

I started shopping, and the overeager daughter (whose English is the best in the family, and so takes on the bulk of the customer relations) followed me around the store, chattering nervously. I stocked up in the spice section, because everything was so cheap! (Americans spend waaaaay too much on spices. 4 to 8 dollars for a small jar?? Go to any international foods store and get a small plastic bag with at least as much volume - and usually more - for a DOLLAR. It's still more than spices cost me when I bought them in souq, when this amount would have set me back 2 dirhams, or about 25 cents.)

When I went to check out, the mom and daughter started squabbling about the prices. I think the mom wanted to give me a discount so I'd come back again, but the daughter wanted to drive a harder bargain now.

I didn't catch every word (but then, I never really did in Morocco, either), but I did understand the numbers.

When they said, "Tlat", meaning 3, I echoed it. The daughter looked up at me. The mom had already turned to go into the back of the store, and I don't think she heard.

"I speak a little Arabic," I said. The daughter's eyes grew wider. "Shweeya, mashi bzzef," I added. A little, not much.

"That's Moroccan," she said flatly.

"Yes, I lived in Morocco for the past two years."

"I speak the real Arabic. I can't understand Moroccan."

I admit, I was put off by her high-handedness, but smiled and said, "Yes, Darija is different from Classical Arabic. But at least you recognized it. You understand some."

She seemed to find such an implication insulting, and went back to calculating my tab. I started asking a few questions. Turns out the shop is owned by an Iraqi family who have been in America for two years. The daughter's accent is the lightest Arabic accent I've ever heard. I had to listen carefully to even realize that there *is* one, because I'm so used to listening through much thicker Arabic accents.

By the time I was done, the mom had come back to the front of the store. As I left, I said to her, "Shukran jazillan." Thank you very much.

Her daughter tossed off a careless, "Afwan." You're welcome.

But the mom's face lit up in a way I haven't seen since Morocco, with the incredulous joy of finding a fellow language-speaker. It's a widening of the eyes and a dropping of the jaw and a radiance that suffuses the features. I hadn't realized till I saw it just how much I've missed it. How much I loved surprising people by treating them as members of a shared community, when they expected the condescension of the high-handed tourist to the local peasant (or, in this case, of the citizen to the immigrant).

As I walked out the door, the mom rushed forward a few steps to call, "Salaam-u alaykum!" Peace be upon you! With a big smile, I called back, "Wa alaykum as-salaam." And also with you.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Kauthar. :D

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps