A look at language and nationality in Morocco
19.06.2007 25 °C
Apologies for not posting recently; unfortunately, my workload seems to only increase as I stay in Morocco. However, this post is obligatory, and not only because it is a journal entry for a course I am taking here! Since my most recent bit of writing, I have taken two different excursions: to the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the city of Meknes, and a weekend trip to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As both trips certainly deserve an article each in their own right, I will come back to those trips in future updates.
Before that, though, I would like to take a little bit of time to talk about the phenomenon known as “culture shock,” or the reaction of people when they are in places unfamiliar to themselves (paraphrase of Stephen Bochner, as are parts of the following). Essentially, the idea is that there are predominately two major groups among foreign travelers: sojourners and settlers. While settlers are coming to an area for a permanent stay, sojourners (as their name suggests) are merely in an area for a temporary period. As a result, settlers tend to become active participants in their new cultures, while sojourners confine themselves to an observer status. The sojourner instead looks towards that which is familiar to him or her and subsequently determines that things not familiar are thus not as good as his or her own customs. This mainly comes from four so-called “push” factors – uncertainty coming from the unfamiliarity of the new culture, helplessness and self-doubt, confusion about one’s role, and revulsion at unfamiliar and controversial customs – and two “pull” factors: loss of status and homesickness.
Now that we’ve got a simple definition from which to work, I’d like to recap my past (almost) three weeks in the Kingdom of Morocco. First of all, I will state up front that I suffered an acute case of “culture shock;” however, my overwhelming fear of the country was caused in great part as I read Orin Hargraves’s book Culture Shock: Morocco, and I began to wonder if it really was a good idea to go to a country where I would be starting an unknown language from scratch. However, by the time I landed in Casablanca, I had finally wrapped my head around the idea that my French would provide a useful crutch until I had some Arabic under my belt. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising thing that has happened over the course of my stay has been the assumptions towards me on the part of Moroccans. While most Americans would expect to hear English spoken towards them (even in foreign countries), it came as a bit of a surprise that I – a foreigner – was being treated as if I was French, since the natural assumption is that any European-looking person is French or at least speaks French. In fact, the only times I have been addressed in English have been moments when I have been speaking to another person in English.
On the topic of English, one thing I have taken into account from the cultural prereading has been the way that Americans are viewed in Morocco. While the United States and Morocco have had a long and meaningful relationship spanning over two centuries, the image of the American – especially the American student – certainly conjures certain images, especially since (in the words of a school administrator) “[some Moroccans] think that you’re in the medina because it’s got the best kif and hashish in the world.” As a result, I have conducted a little experiment of my own. In certain situations, I have put on a Dutch accent and pretended to be, well, Dutch. This has occurred on two separate occasions, both of which occurred this weekend. The first time was in the souk in Rabat, where another student and I – in an effort to look less wealthy – decided to pretend to be poor students, which was in part true. As a result, I believe that we were seen by the merchants in a slightly different light than had we been American tourists looking to spend money, and we were able to have a better situation during price haggling. The second situation occurred yesterday after classes, when Zac and I were walking back home. We were approached by a Moroccan contemporary, who introduced himself to us. The conversation also moved to such things as drug use, particularly hashish. Being in a Dutch guise (the irony of which I realized soon after the encounter) made me more able to reject his advances, as we were able to get away from the situation.
Language and nationality has not been the only surprises I have encountered while in Morocco. As pointed out in my previous post (see it for more details), there have also been differences in dining here as well. Additional topics, which I shall address in future updates, include religion, gender relations, and whatever else any of you want me to look at. Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to give whatever you send me a look.
Au revoir from Maroc.