Coming Soon... (with a linguistic interlude) / by George Bajalia

Earlier this week I was asked to write a guest post for the Tangier American Legation blog about my time with the theatre workshops in Tetouan and Fez. Now that I’ve finished it up, I’ll be posting it here as soon as it’s live at

In the mean time, here’s a brief post about linguistic variance and “code switching” here in Tangier, with special emphasis on centers of ex-pat life (bars and import stores):

On a daily basis, the most important thing I can do with my time here is focus on my language ability. Oftentimes, that means making sure that my interactions are predominantly in Darija (or, sometimes, Spanish) rather than the usual mix of Darija and French that figures prominently in most conversations between foreigners and Moroccans. Sometimes, this means quoting and negotiating prices in Arabic, as opposed to French. My usual response to a price of “quarante cinq" is a quick "Excuse me sir, but I actually speak Arabic much better than French."

Earlier this week, a fellow Fulbrighter came up from Fez with some college friends. To welcome my friend to the big city, I took him by some of Tangier’s import stores. One in particular has become my go to spot for tortillas and other random, reasonably priced, imported goods. By now, I’ve established a bit of a rapport with the owner and we joke good-naturally about my odd taste. 

When I arrived with my friend, we were chatting away in English and we naturally continued as we perused the store. When it came time to check out, the owner casually quoted us the price in English and asked us how we were doing. A bit surprised, we responded in English and then continued the conversation in Arabic. Later that evening, when we popped by one of my favorite bars in the Ville Nouvelle, the barkeep greeting me with a rousing “Nice to see you again- I see you’re back from Fez!” His demeanor is generally a friendly one, but this was a bit different. And so went the rest of the evening. In English.

It took me until quite recently to really accept that sometimes it’s OK to converse in English. Yes, it’s important to conduct my life in Darija as much as possible, but often times people want to practice their English just as much as I want to practice my Arabic. And, as limited as these relationships are, they aren’t one time experiences, so having a conversation in English every now and then is good for all parties involved. It’s not, as I felt at times previously, simply a way of stereotyping foreigners as French speaking tourists. Instead, there is a genuine element of wanting people to feel comfortable, and practicing an useful language at the same time. In fact, it’s very similar to my own inclination to speak in Darija as much as possible.

So, for now, I’m fine with speaking in English when Darija might be more practically beneficial, in terms of my time here. More than that, speaking in a language wanted and accepted by both parties is a more human way of conducting business, and even building cordial relationships. Just don’t quote the price of my tomatoes in French.