So you speak French right? Do you speak French? I can’t understand you guys, you all speak French! These statements represent a maze that I can never hope to escape–a maze constructed by a colonial regime that shook the very fabric of society and culture in North Africa. Every year on July 5th, Algeria is flooded with red, white, and green. Every street, building, and person is adorned with these colors that make up the Algerian Flag. Accompanying these shades of revolution is the shrill ululation that is the powerful reminder of an Algeria before France. Of the many things the French did, what may be their most enduring action is the fact that the French language and culture will always be deeply imprinted into North African culture.
— حنان (@JeSuisHanane) January 14, 2015
Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian dialects are notorious for being difficult to understand by other Arabs. While this has to do with the combination of the accent and use of Berber and archaic Arabic words, most other Arabs will attribute the difficulty to the French that mixed into the dialects. They allow French to become this barrier that stops them from trying to understand not even an ounce of North African culture. Even when asked to say something in my dialect, other Arabs still say that what I said sounds like French despite the phrase containing no French whatsoever. North African culture has been marginalized in the Arab World and has been painted as something distant. The few times North Africans actually do get representation, especially for music, we get people like Rachid Taha speaking French while his interviewer speaks Arabic. This kind of representation adds to the myth that North Africans prefer French over Arabic.
Even outside the Arab world, there is this instant association of North Africa with France. When I get asked where I’m from, the immediate follow up is if I speak French. I once got into an argument with someone who claimed that Moroccans only speak French. He didn’t detract his opinion until I finally told him that I was Moroccan. He’s not alone though, with even Google’s default language for Algeria still being French. Constantly I have had my identity and culture be immediately associated with a language that I didn’t start formally learning until 6th grade in the U.S.
Despite my many grievances, I still find pride in a weird way. I love that we are different from other Arabs. I thoroughly enjoy that I can speak like them and then speak an Arabic they can’t understand. One of my favorite foods is a mergeuz sandwich made with a French Baguette. I hate it when people pronounce Croissant the English way. I even find myself laughing at some of the French words that we arabized. In my opinion French is just as much part of our culture as it is foreign. Culture is too fluid to have a dichotomy of what is French and what is North African. Both sides (not equally) attempt to create this dichotomy and in the end it leads to even more hatred and intolerance. Overall, I’m probably being too dramatic as I try to figure out an identity that has more layers than Mille Feuille (below), but who’s to say?