Une semaine chez les français

Apologies for not posting these past few days. I heard about a week and a half ago that classes would be pushed back another week, so I jumped on the chance to go visit my family in France.

Being in France was not as bizarre an experience as I thought it might be after a month in Casablanca. I did get the chance to take some distance from my first few weeks in Morocco and reflect. And last night, I got to “come home” to Casa, to my apartment and wonderful roommate, and to a life which now seems much clearer than it did on September 30th when I first touched down.

* * *

Although I was born in France and have deep cultural ties there, it’s not exactly home for me. In the street no one would suspect that I didn’t grow up in France, but that only makes it weirder when I occasionally stutter or have to ask sometimes very stupid questions.

Visiting Morocco is a completely different experience. First of all, I can in no way pass for Moroccan. This isn’t so much a question of physical appearance, since my light skin could very possibly make me a Berber, or a Moroccan from the Rif region. As soon as I open my mouth, though, there’s no doubt that I’m a gaouria, a foreigner. So if I know any derija at all, if I’m starting to know my way around Casa, I get a gold star.

Of course this also reveals a cultural difference between France and Morocco…

While carpooling to Nantes from Paris, my sister and I shared a car with two Nantais and a woman from Rabat who remarked that “making friends in Morocco is easy.” (C’est facile de se faire des amis au Maroc) In France, people have a tendency to approach others more cautiously, as opposed to “letting it all hang out.” Affirmation is harder to come by in France, where even the American “think positive!” approach is often perceived to be naive or even dishonest.

I’ve spent my whole life navigating cultural differences between my French and American sides. It took me awhile even to understand that there were important cultural differences. Over the summer I read a book recommended by a close friend, a french woman who lived in Chicago–happily–for four years. The name of the book is Understanding Europeans. Don’t laugh! It’s illuminating.

Along those lines…I picked up a book in France that I’d heard a lot about in Morocco: Une année chez les Français (A Year Among the French) by Fouad Laroui, who’s Moroccan. The book has been well-received and even nominated for the prestigious Goncourt literary award. The only other Moroccan to have received this award is the famed Tahar Ben Jelloun (or “TBJ” for short so you know he’s a “grosse légume”, a big deal).

Une année chez les Français is a classic fish-out-of-the-water story that focuses on a painfully shy and bookish ten year old Moroccan kid, Mehdi, who gets a scholarship to study in the illustrious Lycée Lyautey in Casablanca. Mehdi, who really just wants to spend his days reading, has to grapple with the clash of culture, language, and socio-economic class while also overcoming his own very intense shyness. This all sounds dramatic but the book is actually hilarious, especially if you happen to have experienced the French educational system abroad.

Like Understanding Europeans, the title of Une année chez les Français seems to wink at an old-fashioned anthropological study, historically presented from an Old European point of view.


Filed under American culture, cultural diplomacy, cultural shock, cultural understanding, Moroccan fiction, Travel

4 responses to “Une semaine chez les français

  1. Your book reviews make me think of Watching the English, a sociological (anthropological? In the UK they’re considered the same discipline…another interesting point) study of English people. It makes for great reading for anyone who’s done their fair share of trying to muddle through the unspoken rules of any culture, although of course it’s more fun if you actually know England.

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed France…and that you’re back safe and sound in Morocco. Enjoy the start of classes!

  2. Alis

    Liked this post. Cultural differences always make for a fun read. I feel the same way when I go to Romania. My favorite: not comprehending why I’d have to pay for ketchup at McDonald’s. Oh Europe…

  3. Kat, thanks for your référence to french fry in burgerland. Boy i need to update!! I agree so much with alis, stories of cultural differences is always a fun read. I know that in france they always make you feel bad when you ask for extra ketchup, i have never heard that you have to pay though? Is this something that changed while i was away?
    Mona, this study of UK sounds great.
    Would you have a link to share? I would love to check it out.

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