Upon leaving Morocco and landing in France, I found myself stumbling to produce the appropriate words to complete my sentences. There were instances when my vocabulary would scramble, for instance, shukran to replace merci or feen? to replace où? There were also the cultural slip of the tongues, so to speak. Expressions that had become commonplace in my speech, such as the humdillahs and inshallahs, used to express gratitude and uncertainty respectively, which would smuggle their way into my sentences.
For a few days my brain seemed like it was totally scrambled and confused, and to add a degree or two of socio-political unease, the current relationship between Maghreban immigrants in France and the French could be described, from my point of view, as “rather intolerant.” Thus, I was a loaded gun ready to offend not only the French with my shukrans, but also the Maghrebans who would inevitably look at me and assume my mix up was mockery. Awesome.
It raised some rather poignant questions for me, however, about the fluidity of languages across borders, especially concerning the hot topic—immigration. As a third party, neither French nor Arab, how would those around me take my use of the Arabic language? Would it be taken with malice? How would my Caucasian appearance play a role? What is it like for immigrants and their descendants living in France? What languages do they speak? Where? When? And WHY?
A small anecdote so as to not bore you with my linguistic identity obsession:
While riding the metro I witnessed a rather loud disagreement take place in Arabic. Admittedly, it’s rather annoying in any circumstance to listen to people shout at each other in a confined space, but this peaked my interest the moment it became a attack on the two Arab men’s choice of language. From the other side of the train a man shouted aggressively,
“Ey oh, on est en France, ici on parle français!”
“Hey, we’re in France, here we speak French.”
This marks the stereotypical viewpoint of the French towards foreign languages in their country, especially towards immigrants from the developing countries of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
To be specific, I don’t claim to be a specialist on matters of European immigration. My interest is merely how people identify themselves by their language, and how we (and others) identity our social status within society based on our language. But as our world becomes increasingly more globalized, it is inevitable that we will hear Arabic in France, Wolof in Morocco, and Spanish in the USA… Our borders are porous, and as much as that might dismay some, it’s the future and we better get ready to embrace these cross-cultural/linguistic exchanges as opportunities for learning and growth.
Perhaps the publicity for the Paris Museum of Immigration says it best,
Our ancestors were not all Gaulois.
We are who we are, and should be allowed to identify freely without fear or hesitation and with respect for all peoples and all languages.
*So much to catch up on! More to come very soon!